There are some things that are simply imperative on Thanksgiving. Like a perfectly golden-brown turkey and cranberry sauce made from scratch (never, I repeat never, use the canned kind!).
I grew up with a Korean mom who lovingly and painstakingly took up the American Thanksgiving tradition. For as long as I can remember we had the full Thanksgiving spread: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy made from the turkey drippings, green beans, buttered corn. On the other side of the American feast was its Korean counterpart: kalbi (barbecue ribs), a variety of kimchi, japchae (glass noodles), buchim (potato pancakes) and plenty of panchan (assorted marinated vegetables and roots).
Mom cooked and prepped all week. Every chance she got in between her busy full-time work schedule and raising us young pups, she would slave away in the kitchen boiling and salting vegetables, marinating beef short ribs, making homemade kimchi and studying her trusted turkey recipe.
Now that I'm a mother myself and raising my own young pups, I think of all the details my mom put into Thanksgiving to make it a beautiful and memorable occasion. In fact, I always think of her when setting a table or preparing a meal.
I came across this great article from Bon Appetit about modern Thanksgiving etiquette. I think it offers fantastic advice appropriate not just for Turkey Day, but any event where you find yourself a dinner host or guest. I think Mom would approve, too.
Ten of my favorite nuggets:
> There must be music: a music-less house is missing something.
> Organize your home: so there is room for coats, a place for children to play and somewhere for the adults to escape.
> Guests should be prompt, but NOT early: the unexpected early guest is a pest.
> Ignore the host who tells you to "Just bring yourself" -- you should never arrive empty handed.
> Hosts should take every care in creating a seating plan that encourages lively conversation, quarantines quarrelsome personalities, sparks new friendships and accommodates the delicate (consider the sample seating chart below).
> I LOVE this bit of advice regarding conversation: The victorians played a parlor game where participants stood in a circle and tried to keep a feather aloft by blowing. Too soft a blow and the feather falls; too hard, and it flies out of the circle. This is exactly how conversation should work: where everyone cooperates to keep a subject afloat, without wallflowers or blowhards deflating things (again, consider the chart below).
> Argument is not conversation, and rudeness is never wit. Keep jokes short and stories shorter. Listen and laugh.
> Let kids be kids: it's a long day -- give them space to watch a movie or play outside.
> Phones are the nemesis of conviviality. Meals like Thanksgiving should be havens from the intrusion of work and social media. So Instagram your thumbs off before and after the meal, but in deference to the cook, turn off and put away all devices while there is food on the table.
> Modern technology has not yet replaced the handwritten thank-you note -- rather it has made it more precious.
Click here to read the full article.
Illustration by Mary Kate McDevitt.