Thanksgiving traditions

by Keith Barber

Preparing the turkey

Each family has its own customs when it comes to who prepares the turkey for cooking, but in the South, it’s traditionally the women folk who often begin the process the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. When it comes to great ideas for preparing a turkey, I turn to “The Splendid Table,” my favorite NPR show that always airs on Thanksgiving Day. This year, hostess Lynne Rossetto Kasper is preparing a wine and herb-basted roast turkey with white wine pan gravy. She recommends allowing 25 minutes for prep time and 3 hours, 45 minutes to 4 hours, 15 minutes for cook time. Then, you must not forget to let the turkey “rest” for at least 30 minutes once it comes out of the oven.

Making the dressing

In many families, a recipe for stuffing is handed down from generation to generation. However, in my family, we skip the stuffing and make dressing, which we affectionately call “wads” — a spongy treat made of cornmeal and chicken broth. Salt and pepper to taste and drizzle a bit of gravy on top and it makes for a delicious complement to the turkey.

Football in the yard

After one or two helpings of Thanksgiving lunch, the children are the first to head for the wide-open spaces of the front yard. In the South, we’re fortunate to typically have mild weather on Thanksgiving Day — perfect conditions for a game of touch football. In the tradition of the Kennedys, men, women, boys and girls team up to outwit their relatives while avoiding head-on collisions with oaks and dogwoods.

Football on TV

After we’ve exhausted ourselves or someone’s gone down with a minor injury in the front yard, it’s time to head back inside to catch the end of one of two NFL games traditionally played on Thanksgiving Day. The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears have long been staples of Thanksgiving Day games.

This year, the Lions host the New England Patriots in the early game. Then, the New Orleans Saints travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys in the afternoon game, and the Cincinnati Bengals play the New York Jets in the nightcap. After big helpings of turkey, the L-tryptophan-induced sleepiness begins to set in. Hopefully, you’ll wake up in time to catch the final two minutes.

Turkey sandwiches for dinner

Turkey sandwiches, when prepared correctly, can make for a delicious dinner. So it’s wise to cook enough turkey to get through the afternoon feast with plenty to spare. A couple of slices of breast meat on toasted bread with mayo, iceberg lettuce, cranberry sauce, salt and pepper is my idea of heaven. Add a few potato chips and a ginger ale, and you have the perfect meal while you watch the big game.

Time spent with family

Some folks dread the holidays because it means having to be around one’s family. But in perspective, these moments offer us the rare opportunity to simultaneously connect with all the people who love us. The truth is, we are always surrounded by love whether we see it or not. I have only become conscious of this reality recently. We know when we are with our family that we are not alone and never could be alone. And for those of us who don’t have children of our own, what a unique pleasure it is to be in the company of cousins, nieces and nephews who remind us what’s important in life.

Reflection and gratitude

Thanksgiving is the only holiday based purely on the emotion of gratitude. Christmas and Easter have religious overtones, but Thanksgiving offers us a chance to spend 24 hours in a state of thankfulness. When you can meditate on gratitude for hours on end, it sends out waves of positive energy into the universe and that energy returns to you tenfold. When we feel sincerely grateful for what we have, we realize we have everything we need. And in the Buddhist tradition, gratitude extinguishes fear, desire and duty in our hearts, and that is the definition of nirvana.


If you’re going to indulge on Thanksgiving Day, you might as well go all the way. Pumpkin pie, made the organic way, has dozens of tremendous health benefits. Most of the fat lies in the crust, so the key is to make a homemade crust with only the finest organic ingredients. These days, desserts of all kinds are served at Thanksgiving, but I prefer the traditional treat of pumpkin pie. I think the Pilgrims actually ate pumpkin pie that very first Thanksgiving. At least that’s what my third-grade teacher said.

Hugs and kisses

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to hold those hugs a little bit longer. Embrace the people you love like you mean it. Let them be the first to let go. Hug and kiss with sincerity and you will feel an immediate positive response from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. In the South, we often give “polite hugs,” but I prefer to do everything from the heart. Give it a try. I think you’ll enjoy it.


For the past few years, I have been asked to say the blessing before the feast on Thanksgiving Day. My grandfather passed away three years ago, and the torch has been passed to me. No one could give a benediction like my Papa, but I do my best to live up to his high standards. When we all bow our heads, I feel him there with us and the words come from deep inside. Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “Man is a stream whose source is hidden.” When you volunteer to perform the benediction at Thanksgiving, you are placing yourself directly in the flow of energy that is the very source of the universe and that is its own reward.