Weird Things People Do on Thanksgiving

As a kid, I loved Thanksgiving. The experience was colorful, festive and I was allowed to drink Coca-Cola.

For about eight years during the 1970s, the routine was exactly the same. We'd gather at Aunt Ginny and Uncle Clinton's house late in the afternoon and all the women would be bumping into one another in the kitchen. At that time in the history of the family, there were about 20 of us and we three O'Donnel kids, greatly outnumbered by adults, were spoiled by our many doting aunts and uncles.

I remember the teal-colored double-level refrigerator (so '60s!) from which I'd gather ice cubes for glasses of Coke. I can still hear the fizz of the soda as it made contact with the ice in my glass, which felt glamorous and very grownup.

Out of the matching oven would emerge the biggest turkey my eyes ever saw and it was always one of the men who'd do the carving. I liked to watch, particularly if my father was at the helm (I seem to recall lots of cursing under his breath) and I'd always try to sneak a piece of skin. I remember waiting patiently for the discovery of the wishbone and placing it somewhere on a kitchen ledge for drying.

The gravy was always made with Kitchen Bouquet, a suspicious, brown flavoring liquid in a strange little bottle. I never saw the Bouquet emerge at any other time of the year. I also recall jars of Heinz turkey gravy and Aunt Ginny singing a little ditty while she stirred her concoction.

The potatoes were not mashed but whipped with an electric mixer. The stuffing was Stove Top out of a box. And the rolls, they were fresh out of the Parker House bag. If there was a vegetable, it may have been creamed onions. Oh yes, it was green bean casserole, with those French-fried onions on top.

After much corralling, everyone would gather in the dining room (we were relegated, of course, to the "kids' table") and someone would say "Grace." My uncle would preside at the head of the table, donned in one of those silky, stretchy Quiana shirts that were all the rage. I loved sitting near him, as he'd oversee the passing of the food, in a cool, calm manner that always made me feel secure.

After dinner, the men would gather in the basement to play pinochle (and I think, to drink Scotch). The kitchen table was a mess, but I always made my way there, for an extra piece of turkey skin and a few minutes alone attempting to crack open a few nuts with a nutcracker (I always needed help.).

In the early 1980s, my father died, followed soon thereafter by my grandmother and my Quiana-wearing, Cadillac-driving uncle. The family quickly shrunk and Thanksgiving was forever different.

When asked about their own family quirks and traditions on Thanksgiving, a few friends replied with the following:

"My family always drank Blue Nun, and only on this one day of the year." (Blue Nun is a sickly sweet white wine in a blue bottle that became popular in the 70s.)

"My mother-in-law makes gingerbread turkeys. You know, gingerbread cookies, but instead of men, they're turkeys."

"My dad always pulled out the electric carving knife to slice the turkey."

"We have sashimi for lunch before the turkey dinner. My mother orders it from the same place every year."

"I just bought the family a nice knife last year because for 35 years they've been cutting the turkey with a dumb steak knife."

So, what weird thing does your family do every Thanksgiving, without fail? Share your tales in the comments area below!

By Kim ODonnel |  November 22, 2006; 9:18 AM ET Kitchen Musings , Thanksgiving
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We always had Thanksgiving at my aunt's house (and Christmas dinner at ours). The "tradition" I most remember was that it always seemed to take my aunt forever to make the gravy - and the hungrier you were, the longer it took.
Now, Ruth and her gravy are an inside family joke.

BTW, do they still make Blue Nun?!

Posted by: E | November 22, 2006 10:16 AM

No bashing the Blue Nun! Yes, they do still make it and while it's certainly not my favorite wine, it is good on a hot summer's day.

Posted by: Reston | November 22, 2006 10:30 AM

In email this morning:
PREGNANT TURKEY STORY (source unknown)
One year at Thanksgiving, my mom went to my sister's house for the traditional feast. Knowing how gullible my sister is, my mom decided to play a trick. She told my sister that she needed something from the store. When my sister left, my mom took the turkey out of the oven, removed the stuffing, stuffed a Cornish hen, and inserted it into the turkey, and re-stuffed the turkey. She then placed the bird(s) back in the oven.
When it was time for dinner, my sister pulled the turkey out of the oven and proceeded to remove the stuffing. When her serving spoon hit something, she reached in and pulled out the little bird. With a look of total shock on her face, my mother exclaimed, "Patricia, you've cooked a pregnant bird!" At the reality of this horrifying news, my sister started to cry. It took the family two hours to convince her that turkeys lay eggs...

Posted by: Tugboat | November 22, 2006 11:29 AM

My family cooked "mountain oysters" as a pre-dinner snack on Thanksgiving. Not so much because they were a delicacy, but because, well, it was farm country and they were plentiful, and it gave folks something to do, to talk about, and of course, to complain about.

Posted by: CH | November 22, 2006 11:56 AM

My Thanksgivings now are pretty routine...we eat with my husband's meat-and-potatoes family, and it's so much like any other dinner (with turkey swapped in for the usual beef or pork) that I have to pinch myself to remember that it's Thanksgiving.

But when I was a kid...we had cousins over that we didn't see very often. We played ping pong and the "Murderer" game (in a dark room, everyone picks a card, ace of spades is the murderer). We ate foods we didn't normally eat...cranberry bread (Pillsbury), corn in butter sauce (Green Giant), stuffing (homemade, I think!) w/ sausage in it. After dinner, we'd play a guessing game of the state capitals and then go for a long walk outside, maybe watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on TV.

Posted by: Born in Buffalo | November 22, 2006 11:57 AM

My grandmother would have Thanksgiving dinner with us and after dinner she'd get out the Montgomery Ward catalog to start planning her Christmas shopping. She called it "The Wish Book." Naturally we'd pick out bicycles, roller skates (although we had absolutely no paved sidewalks to roller skate on), dolls, model airplanes, view masters, magic sets, any kind of toy. When Christmas Day rolled around, all we got from Grandma was flannel pajamas and bedroom slippers. No matter what we wished for, we got flannel pajamas and slippers.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | November 22, 2006 12:18 PM

My parents received an electric carving knife as wedding present in the 70's. My father still carves every turkey to this day with the ugliest pea green colored electric knife. Thanksgiving wouldnt be the same without out it.

My father was in the military and retired after 20+ years. My family has meant everything to me after 19 moves across the country.

My fiance is in the marine corps, he was in iraq during thanksgiving and x-mas last year. It has become tradition to take in friends, co-workers and people on base that have nowhere to go and are far from home. My parents host because they love every table and eating space in the house full.

Our military give up so much for us.. its a warming feeling to be able to give something back to them.

Posted by: JNL | November 22, 2006 12:39 PM

we have weird dishes that someone must've liked at some point, because now they're at every holiday in my memory. every year to this day my family has something called rice salad. i don't know where it came from, but it involves white minute rice, radishes, scallions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a bottle of italian dressing.

Posted by: m | November 22, 2006 6:43 PM

We always make brussel sprouts with bacon, a crazy cranberry relish with orange peels, and gravy from scratch. The turkey is always a mystery even using the thermometer so, this year we did it the "food network" way and smeared the bird with butter. amazing

Posted by: nan in McLean | November 28, 2006 3:16 PM

As a 'boomer', I have lived through through five different decades of giving Thanks. The 60's at my Grandmothers house, the 70's at my Mom's, 80's at my sisters' houses, 90's at relatives here in southern Cal, and this decade, I have been hosting dinner for my new Mexican family here in LA. This year, however, I took a break and flew to Mexico for Thanksgiving. They don't even celebrate Thanksgiving there, so we didn't do anything!

Posted by: Kimball Page, Los Angeles, USA | November 29, 2006 8:49 PM

For the last few years my husband and I have replaced the turkey in the oven with a fully cooked cornish hen. Then we tell tell some unsuspecting child, cousin, niece, nephew that the turkey shrank while cooking, and he would have to eat oatmeal, or rutabegas or something not-so Thanksgivingish. Someone always cries. Hee hee!

Posted by: Jess | December 4, 2006 1:37 PM

My mom's electric knife is pea-green too! It comes out for all holiday dinners, not just T-Day ... carves the prime rib at Xmas or New Year's, the ham or lamb at Easter. Ahhh, the '70s.

Posted by: gmg | December 8, 2006 4:46 PM

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