I am tired of ham. I am tired of turkey. They are not bad foods. They are just worn out.
I have eaten, without pause, turkey and ham every Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past 100 years. And don’t forget the dressing, mashed potatoes, and deviled eggs. Sure, they’re only sides you might say. Guilty by association I say. It wasn’t until lately that I began to ask myself, why? Why am I eating the exact same bird every single year? Why do I cook the exact same sides every single time? I’ll tell you why. Tradition.
But is that all tradition means? Repeating the same things over and over again. In that case, I have a tradition of showering and brushing my teeth every day. I have a tradition of showing up for work every day. It’s traditional for me to fill my car with gas twice a week. Ok. So tradition is not just repetition. Maybe there is a little nostalgia attached to the process. And it is a process, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not just a noun. It’s more of a verb if you think about it. Traditions take place. They’re events. They consist of actions and remembrances. They are familial, local, and personal. Every corner of the globe has them. They fill the nook and crannies of our existence, whether it’s a couple of tulips placed on a grave or an entire village coming together in the town square to catch things thrown from a window.
And these events usually evoke a certain comfort. They take childhood memories of laughing, aromatic delights, and full bellies, and weave a strand of culture and comfort that holds strings of families together generation after generation. Like bedtime stories. They teach us. How to make giblet gravy. That you have family you’ll never talk to the other 364 days of the year, but that you can share the gravy with today. That your progeny won’t forget the things passed down to you through the years thanks to a simple repetition of events. A cultural chain of custody. And preservation of ideas and ethnic heritage isn’t a bad thing, right?
Maybe not for the first forty years. Maybe I’m having a mid-life-culinary crisis. I have some good memories that go along with end of the year get-togethers. I also have memories of lying on my side like a bloated and beached whale for a few hours on the couch, praying to the God of Gastronomy to lighten my load as soon as possible, and to please give me at least a thirty second warning prior. I have memories of enjoying company and memories of wondering why it’s necessary to be nice to people just because it’s a certain day of the year. I have memories of learning just how mom makes the dressing and memories of the stove blinking an error signal Thanksgiving morning a few scant hours before everyone was supposed to show up to eat. It’s a mixed bag is all I’m saying.
Might there not be another way to celebrate, though? Would it be so bad to not eat the same thing next year? What are the consequences of being non-traditional? I think we know now why we adhere to the robotic cycle every year: comfort. So why forego comfort and break bad? How about growth.
Surely there is a way to preserve what mom and dad consider holy while engaging the process in a creative and forward manner. Preparing lunch or dinner a little differently isn’t going to erase anyone’s childhood. Maybe it’s because I equate comfort with a lack of progression. Get too comfortable with your job, for instance, and you might find yourself in a stagnant career twenty years later with no discernible method of increasing your pay, or for that matter developing a skill set that will allow you to raise your quality of life. Sure, it’s easy to slip into a comfort zone. Too easy.
That must be what causes me to stare impassively at those dripping juices surrounded with a heavenly crust. To levy an imperceptible sneer at the beautiful lake of gravy nestled carefully in the middle of the hand-mashed potatoes. To plate my dressing, which my mother prepared with love (I know this because she hates the smell of boiling chicken, but does it anyway), with a cold indifference.
I know, I know. But I can’t help it. And don’t say you haven’t thought about it at least once. I know you have. I know someone has taken to their turkey and thought, “Man, I could so go for some BBQ right now. Or pork chops. Or maybe even Pad Thai. Don’t feel guilty. It’s your natural yearning to move forward and expand your horizons. Embrace it. Stop fixing that casserole that never has so much as a divot in it when the meal’s over and flip through that cookbook that’s in your… well, who knows where you put it years ago? But you can find it if you try.
I’ll leave you with a clipped story I heard once upon a time. There are five monkeys in a cage. There are some steps in the middle of the cage. A banana is hung at the top of the stairs one day and when the monkeys try to climb and reach it, they are all sprayed with a hose. Soon, the monkeys don’t even bother with the banana. Then, one of the monkeys is replaced by a new monkey. The new monkey heads for the banana and is immediately pummeled by the others, with no idea why. No one has been sprayed in some time. Soon, that monkey gives up on the banana too. One by one, the monkeys are replaced, each one learning from the others not to try for the banana. After a while, all the original monkeys are gone and the new monkeys never attempt to take the banana. Even though they could. And why don’t they do things differently, even though they could? Because that’s the way it’s always been done. Tradition.
I’m just saying, I would eat that fucking banana.