Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. A time of family, of food, of rest — what’s not to love? For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has been the holiday I most look forward to as the days grow shorter and the leaves change. But my relationship with Thanksgiving has evolved over the years along with my understanding of its history and the many twists and turns in my own life.
The Early Years
Ah, the ’90s. The carefree years of Bill Clinton, the Fresh Prince, boy bands, and Tamagotchis (mine was a T-Rex, in case you were wondering). As a kid, Thanksgiving was synonymous with some of my favorite things: my mom’s pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce from a can and sliced into perfect gelatinous discs, time off from school. Once or twice, we flew to the East Coast to celebrate with my extended family. In my memories of those visits, I can see all my cousins, aunts, uncles, and my grandmother gathered around a long table and I can still feel that sense of awe and wonder I felt at seeing trees change color, which they decidedly did not do in the desert Southwest. This was also the time in my life when I was first introduced to the classic telling of the Thanksgiving story through pageants and events at school where we would fashion feather headdresses and buckled hats out of construction paper.
The Years of Pilgrimage
I was in my high school U.S. history class when I first encountered the idea that the Thanksgiving story of kind-hearted Native Americans offering food to the hungry Plymouth colonists was a fabrication. Was there a feast at some point? Possibly, but the whole story reeks of colonial ideas of manifest destiny and obscures a complicated political reality. By the time the English settlers arrived in what is now Massachusettes, the native tribes, Wampanoags and the Narragansetts, already had a century of experience dealing with Europeans. When the Wampanoag chief offered an alliance to the new arrivals, it was with an eye toward securing a political and military advantage over their rivals. What neither tribe realized at the time was that disease, war, and wave upon wave of immigrants from Europe would decimate their people and drive them out of their ancestral lands. When Christopher Columbus sailed into the Caribbean in 1492, there were an estimated 54 million indigenous people populating every corner of the Americas. By 1650, only 6 million remained.
During college, my immediate family moved to Nevada. Each year at the end of November, I made the drive from Flagstaff to Las Vegas, a journey of four and a half hours each way down Interstate 40. The solitude of those Thanksgiving drives left me with lots of time to enjoy the scenery, listen to music, and think. In many ways, those few years of making the pilgrimage to my parents’ house are some of the most memorable and meaningful Thanksgiving celebrations of my life. It was never just a meal. It was a homecoming, a chance to reconnect, a return to family I only saw a few times a year. Pumpkin pie has never tasted so good.
The Years of New Traditions
These days, I live over a thousand miles from my family, but I’ve also gained family along the way. I’m married and we have a child of our own. Now, we alternate our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Thanksgivings with my in-laws are different than the ones I grew up with and wonderful in their own way, with multiple turkeys cooked many ways, leftovers transformed into Turkle Burgles, and long walks through the woods. I’ve added bits and pieces of my family’s traditions to the mix, including our world-famous stuffing balls.
I’m not sure what Thanksgiving traditions our daughter grow up with, but I hope we can give her memories she’ll cherish all her life. I also hope she’ll be able to accept two truths which at first glance many seem contradictory — that Thanksgiving is both a beautiful tradition of gathering around good food with friends and family and that the myth of Thanksgiving whitewashes an ugly truth about oppression and genocide that is a part of the American story. That’s something we all must reckon with, not to feel guilty about the actions of our ancestors but to reorient ourselves toward acts that heal and l contribute to bending the long moral arc of the universe toward justice.
So, this week, I will remember all the Thanksgivings that have led to this one and be thankful that I am here, now, in this place, with this family. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you find yourself this week crowded around a long table with people you care about, to share a meal and share stories and just be together.
Oh, and do me a favor — save me a slice of pumpkin pie.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer and podcaster in Tacoma, WA. His work has appeared in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine, and All Worlds Wayfarer. You can follow him on Twitter, join his mailing list, and listen to his audio drama, The Adventures of Captain Radio, wherever you enjoy podcasts. Want to hear this blog post in podcast form? Subscribe to Dispatches with Jonny Eberle.
Bonus: Thanksgiving Stuffing Ball Recipe
Prep: 20 min. | Cook: 40 min. | Total: 55 min. | Servings: 16
- 2 loaves of bread (preferably different varieties, ie. rye, sourdough, multigrain, etc. )
- 1 cup yellow onion, diced
- 1 ½ stalks celery, diced
- 2-3 sticks butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground sage
- 3 eggs
- A few days before assembly, shred bread into 1-inch pieces and let dry on a baking sheet.
- Preheat oven to 350℉.
- Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and celery and saute until softened, about 10-15 minutes. Add salt.
- Sprinkle sage over onions and celery and cook until aromatic. Remove from heat.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine bread; onion, celery, and sage mixture; and eggs. Press into snowball-sized balls and place in a 9×13 baking dish or wrap in foil.
- Bake stuffing balls for 20-25 minutes or until heated through and slightly darkened in color. Serve warm.
Note: Assembly works best if bread is dry. If mixture doesn’t hold together, add an additional egg or half stick of melted butter. Enjoy!