Yep. Thanksgiving is around the corner. Look at your calendar. Yep the 24th.

For blacks, the holidays are a time for foods galore in varieties that we may not have access to year-round. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas yield delicious meals that bring families together in love and fellowship.

The matriarch of the family usually runs the holiday meals. Let’s start with Thanksgiving. For blacks, Thanksgiving Day has nothing to do with Pilgrims nor that genocidal celebration when the Native Americans were murdered, and their land was stolen.

For us, Thanksgiving isn’t an isolated day for your immediate household to gather, but a time for reunion of family and friends (aka ‘everyone and their mama’) that you may not have seen all year.

It’s a time to be thankful and grateful for family and appreciative of friends. Oh, and eat as much of the good stuff that “mama isn’t making until next year” as you can.

In black homes, Thanksgiving dinner usually always starts with a long prayer led by the elders of the family. During this time, even the heathens in the family – you know, those relatives who’ve strayed away from the family’s values and belief system – participate.

The foods on the black Thanksgiving table are wide, yet unique, in variety. We have beans (green beans), greens (collards), potatoes (potato salad, candied yams), gumbo, mirliton, turkey (fried, smoked, smothered, baked), pork – honey baked hams, stuffed peppers. You name it!

Turkey Choices

While almost every American household has the traditional turkey, blacks don’t just bake it. We may deep fry it, smoke it or opt for turkey wings instead of the whole bird and smother it in brown gravy. And let’s not forget the stuffed turducken.

Turkey isn’t the only meat on the menu. We also have honey baked ham, fried chicken, garlicky beef roast, lamb and even ribs.  In New Orleans, the weather is often warm.  One year we cooked out in the yard like it was the 4th of July. 

The gumbo is always the first dish and the source of the most conversation in New Orleans.  A relative can no longer come to Thanksgiving dinner because he talked badly about the gumbo that everybody else loved. It was his second offense. He also questioned the potato salad. Major offenses punishable by banishment from the biggest family gathering of the year.  

Accompaniments on the menu are everything. On the black Thanksgiving table, sides are king, starting with macaroni and cheese. This item dates back to James Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved chef, who created the original American mac and cheese recipe.

Yes, we’ve been cooking mac and cheese for a mighty long time.

Other sides include peas, corn, roasted, Brussel sprouts, candied yams, green beans, stuffed mirliton, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, asparagus, roasted carrots and potato salad.

While some northerners believe mac and cheese should be a solid block that can be cut with a knife, and culinary students are taught to start it with rue (flour), there is a correct way to cook it and it’s neither of those.

Other items including, corn bread, biscuits, a variety of dressings (not stuffing)-Oyster, cornbread, shrimp  and a variety of rice dishes. White rice, yellow rice, jambalaya are all found on the holiday table in black families.

Turducken – Turkey duck and chicken and sausage dressing

Then we have desserts. For blacks, favorites such as pound cake, banana pudding, peach cobbler, red velvet cake and that family favorite mama cooks so many of everyone hopes they get to leave with one, sweet potato pie (never pumpkin).

After dessert families usually play games like checkers and spades, during which a lot of trash talking and loud conversations about sports, politics and religion take place.

Thanksgiving is Around the Corner

Along with all the food, desserts, games and loud talking, there are random bursts of singing, dancing and photos galore. If the Saints are on TV, then the meal must be timed around the game. Sometimes families watch movies on a small side TV. But the football game is always on the big TV. My family is a traditional African American family with roots in Louisiana , but these traditions have been shared nationwide with many similar menu variations.

Christmas is very similar to Thanksgiving when it comes to holiday food and festivities. The only difference is there may be eggnog, cookies, caroling, church services and other traditions very specific to the Christmas holidays.

No matter where your family is from, I think we all can all agree that the only thing better than Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner in the black family are the leftovers the next day. One of the great things about soul food is it only gets better after having more time to marinate.

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