No other season’s foods and smells evoke such clear imagery and sentiment in Western culture than the delights many will be consuming in the next six weeks. Think about it, the mere sniff of a Douglas Fir scented candle or the sight of a pumpkin pie generally send one into a tizzy dreaming of holidays past.
Stop for a second and try to think of how you would describe what hot cider tastes like to someone who has never heard of such a thing. What words would you use? What images would you try convey as you described the flavor?
I would bet a scene of a chilly night, a cozy and comfortable softly lit room with a Christmas tree twinkling in the front window might creep into your mind. Well, that’s a little specific, but no doubt some sort of Norman Rockwell-esque wintery scene comes to mind when describing hot cider.
For me, I think of the day after Thanksgiving at “Light-up Night” in my hometown. (It’s Crosby’s family-friendly, enjoyable, and delightfully nostalgic anecdote to Black Friday). Stores stay open late (as in 8 or 9 p.m.), there are sleigh rides, student carolers, and Santa hands out candy canes. Growing up, that was usually the first night of the winter that I would have a glass of hot cider.
Those images flood my mind and along with them come the feelings and memories that have inherited a soft gauzy glow with time… all as a result of a cup of a seasonal drink.
But they wouldn’t be as clear and distinct if it weren’t for years and years of traditions. Americans would like to think that they’re staying tried and true to the celebration the pilgrims had a couple of hundred years ago celebrating their first successful harvest.
Aside from the faux cornucopia overflowing with gourds and maize gracing your table’s center this season, there aren’t many staples left over from that first feast. ,
Though we’ve strayed a bit from the dishes a la 1621, arguably the year of the first Thanksgiving, holiday foods have blended themselves deeply into Americans’ cravings for savory delight and nostalgia. Year after year, families and friends cook up the same meals, sit at the same table, have the same spats, and tell the same jokes – and none of it ever gets old because it’s tradition and that’s just what happens every third Thursday of November in America.
The most vivid imagery and memory of food has got to come from the signature spin each group of family or friends puts on the menu. Tuna casserole, garlic bread, sticky rice, cheese soup – the misfits always seem to be the most closely linked to the quirky scenes from the dinner table. I still giggle when I think about my cousin having green jello melt into all of his food when he put a big slice of ham on top of his already overflowing plate… I guess you had to be there.
My family has two traditional dishes, one is fairly standard and common for Midwesterners’ holiday tables, the other isn’t so much… I’m referring to lefse and green jello, of course.
Maybe it’s the tradition that weighs heavy on the recipe cards, or perhaps it’s the grand production and orchestration of holiday meals that leaves us with such clear memories associated with our plate of Thanksgiving dinner. Most of all I think it’s associating the foods with the people we always share them with. After all, turkey and mashed potatoes are only just that until they’re accompanied by a boisterous and jovial group of friends and family.
Whatever you’re eating this Thanksgiving, eat it with love and a grateful soul. Cheers!