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Thanksgiving Is for Turkeys

Thanksgiving Is for Turkeys

I’m sitting out Thanksgiving this year. Not because I am un-American, but because I’m full.


Listen . . . do you hear that? Those annoying squawking sounds are the desperate cries of the nation’s turkeys, sensing doom. Inside their tiny brains, they know that they about to peck their last bits of fallen corn before they are sent cruising at an altitude of 350 degrees for four hours before landing on oversized platters as the starring feature of Thanksgiving dinner.

As a Shabbat hostess, I make Thanksgiving every single week.

I mean no disrespect to this great American tradition. Few other advanced civilizations have the audacity to give thanks for the Lord’s bounty while simultaneously consuming more calories in one sitting than the average Gambian will consume in an entire lifetime. But as far as I’m concerned, you can take this turkey-crazed holiday and stuff it. The reason is simple. As an inveterate Shabbat hostess, I make something akin to Thanksgiving every single week. Wine, freshly baked challah, a soup or salad appetizer, a main course with three or four side dishes, and delectable desserts. Shabbat is our sanctuary in time from the demands of work, the lure of online shopping, and the challenge of finding parking in a crowded metropolis. It is, if I may be so bold, even more extraordinary than Thanksgiving, so I happily roll up my sleeves and log many hours in the kitchen each Friday to prepare for it. This is why I need another holiday that requires cooking like I need my kid to lose her $425.00 orthodontic retainer. Again.

I understand and sympathize with average Americans who get all worked up and a little neurotic about Thanksgiving. After all, for them, preparing special meals for a crowd is a novelty. Faced with the prospect of cooking a formal dinner for a dozen or more people, they tune into The Food Network as if awaiting the ultimate revelation, download recipes that promise their big birds won’t emerge from the oven drier than the Negev in August, and call radio psychologists for advice on surviving a three-hour meal with relatives whose personality quirks and passive-aggressive natures make them break out in hives. They also have to put in a good word for the Pilgrims at the table, no small feat these days because the children have been taught at school that the Pilgrims were evil imperialists who came over on the Mayflower specifically for the purpose of committing genocide on Native Americans. Oh yeah, and Cousin Randy is bringing his new girlfriend, who is gluten-intolerant. You call this a holiday?

We Jews are used to all these challenges and then some. Long ago I learned the secret of cooking a turkey that earns rave reviews (“So moist I bet you ordered it from a restaurant!”) Don’t ask me how I do it. I said it was a secret. I’ll just say this: A turkey is really just an overgrown chicken, so don’t be intimidated. If you still insist on being intimidated, just buy the turkey breast. Now stop pressing me for more details. When I said it was a secret I meant it! As for dealing with difficult relatives, that’s too long a megilla for now. One day I may screw up the courage to write about this – under a pseudonym.

For the sake of our non-Shabbat observant relatives, I used to make Thanksgiving dinners with all the trimmings, except for candied yams, something whose very name makes me just feel borderline diabetic. I tell you, I knocked myself out for those spreads. I was determined to show our extended family that while I may have become kosher and Shabbat-observant, I still had that rah-rah American spirit and could cater a 3,500 calorie feast just like anybody else. I decorated the table with cute little paper cut-out Pilgrim caps and carved acorn squash and yellow crookneck squash into the shape of a turkey. At least, it was supposed to have been a turkey. Mine actually looked like a gerbil, but that was entirely unintentional.

Sure, I had plenty of leftovers to serve for Shabbat the next night, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Thanksgiving was, well, redundant. This is what happens when you are Jewish and already give thanks dozens of times each day, for everything from the rhapsodic experience of seeing a rainbow to the blessing of having a bottle of overpriced, ph-balanced water to drink.

I think it’s great that Americans still celebrate Thanksgiving. I say, the more thankful we are as a nation, the better, even if it is accompanied by a nearly comatose collapse on the couch to watch football and a walkathon the next morning at the mall for the blow-out pre-holiday sales. But I’m sticking with my weekly Shabbat meals. They are easier on the waistline, though I do sometimes sneak in a little prayer that the calories in dessert won’t count as much because I’m only eating it for the mitzvah. (Well, a woman can dream, can’t she?) I serve these meals on my best dishes, and if you bring a gluten-free, or vegan, or cayenne pepper-intolerant guest to my table, I’m ready with forty-eight hours notice.

Once I gave up trying to stuff in one more holiday into my already busy holiday entertaining schedule, I had even more reason to give thanks. And I’m not alone: those other squawking sounds you hear are those of at least one of the nation’s turkeys, thankful that I am not after him this November.

November 19, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 15

(10) David, November 26, 2012 9:27 AM

Simple Solution

You could have a Thanksgiving-themed meal on the Shabbos of the Thanksgiving weekend and invite your extended family to that. This way they will have the nostalgia of Thanksgiving with you and discover Shabbos without feeling like they were invited for that purpose.

(9) Shari, November 24, 2011 3:52 PM

Blown way out of proprotion

Wow, did you open up a can of worms! I think Jackie Mason describes it best, although he meant it for Jewish holidays: we were persecuted, we won, let's eat. Shabbos is Shabbos, and Jewish holidays are Jewish holidays, but what about being grateful to our hosts? If you go to someone's house for a meal, would you walk away without a thank you because you could have eaten at home anyway? There is absolutely nothing wrong with being grateful to the instrument of G-d's mercy. Thanksgiving isn't a religious holiday in the sense that you have to thank G-d and this country by going to church or observing religious customs that are in conflict with ours. And isn't it better to have at least one day of recognizing gratitude than none at all? Also, most of the time in order for us to spend time with family it has to be for an entire Shabbos or holiday. On Thanksgiving you can have more people over, just to be together on a day off, without having to worry about housing everyone. I think people should stop making such a big deal about this, and just enjoy an opportunity to celebrate. If you don't want to prepare the elaborate meal (and I agree that with having to prepare Shabbos tomorrow I don't need the extra kitchen time), order a pizza!

(8) Anonymous, November 23, 2011 12:21 AM

Neurotic! Novelty! Redundant! Part II

If it was not for the Pilgrims who knows if Jews would have survived the persecution in every country having no place to go. I think we owe them our respect and appreciation. Yes lots of native lost their lives like in so many other countries. Other countries have their own stories. Neurotic, Novelty!!! I have made dinner for my children and friends for as long as I can remember sometimes twice a week thanking G-d for having them. Thksgvg is no novelty its part of America’s traditions for which we are so thankful to live in. We also are far from being neurotic as most people feel that way too. Maybe you got enough cooking Shabbat diner and don’t feel to cook anymore but then, don’t implicate the rest of America! I find your words disrespectful to everyone and to a country, which accepted you the way you are.

(7) Feigele, November 23, 2011 12:18 AM

Turkey or chicken is analogous! Part I

You prepare Shabbat diner every week, I suppose you have been making chicken for many years! Now that is redundant! Isn’it the same as turkey, which is only once a year? Yes it is a very abundant meal but you can restraint from abusing it and it can be done very healthy too. I believe that thousand of Jews make Shabbat diner too but still enjoy Thksgvg dinner too with family and friends. Why compare Shabbat diner with once a year Thksgvg diner instead of enjoying the freedom of doing it? What is doomed for one is very exciting for so many. Thksgvg happened to be celebrated in America in remembrance and to honor the ancestors who created this country for you and your children, with their lives and terrible hardship. Thanks to them, we Jews are here today and free to exercise our rights, to practice our religion in peace. When I first came to America, my mouth stay wide opened in front of a kosher pizza store or seeing Jews read their Jewish newspaper everywhere with no fear of being apprehended, when I remember my father in Paris hiding it as did other Jews. Kosher food is everywhere here unlike in other countries. Part II next...

(6) Paula, November 22, 2011 11:50 PM

Sorry you are so overworked that you cannot enjoy a holiday that ipertains to this nation for a reason. Yes the meal can be over blown and stress us to the max. But then we miss the true meaning which is thanks to Ha Shem for freedoms few other peoples enjoyed in such abundance & fellowship with family and friends. PS As they lived close to water, they probably had fish not turkey anyway. Blessings

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