So you want to tell your family that you’re tired of eating turkey every year.
Before we go any further: I am on team turkey. Having not grown up with Christmas, I have no childhood attachment to any particular holiday meal — nor have I had a lifetime to get sick of one. The only food-related tradition I remember is my grandfather using the season as an excuse to keep the coffee table stocked with Turtles.
These days, my wife and I spend the last week of December with her family in Winnipeg, and I look forward to the bird my mother-in-law cooks. Turkeys range from about 12 to 24 pounds, so there’s always too much for the six of us (one of whom is vegetarian). And, inevitably, someone asks why we need a turkey — but there’s never enough of a populist outcry to cause the incumbent’s ouster.
I love that roast turkey, just as I love seeing my brother’s in-laws for Hanukkah and knowing that there will be a bountiful spread of bagels, cream cheese, and lox.
But there’s a natural tendency — particularly in people just starting their own families — to challenge the orthodoxy of the holiday meal. And it’s tricky, because family members might well have become attached to certain food traditions.
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Of course, tradition exists on a spectrum. On one end, there’s nice stuff, like wearing your father’s old watch, reading stories to your kid that you remember from your own childhood, or cooking your version of a regional dish that everyone in your town makes. But if you follow the idea of cultural perseveration all the way to the dark end of the spectrum, you get neo-fascists marching to maintain their ethnic majority.
When it comes to Christmas dinner, there are family members on one end of the table who want to keep eating the same meal every year. On the other, there’s someone asking, can’t we have something besides turkey this time?
Sometimes kids want to change their parents’ traditions. Sometimes parents get tired of doing the same thing every year, but their kids may depend on that feeling of familiarity when they come home from school in December.
So if you want to change your family’s holiday meal, start small.
Unless you want the gambit to fail (or you’re trying to hurt someone’s feelings), don’t start by telling your mother that you’re tired of her turkey dinner. The key is to gradually introduce new ideas rather than suddenly throw out all the old ones. You want to go around the mountain, not through it.
Instead, suggest an addition rather than a subtraction. The main meal is a potentially big battle, one you may not yet have the troops for. This is a multi-year process (assuming you’re in the family for the long haul), and it should start with a proxy war.
Maybe there’s an evening earlier in the week when cousins stop by. Maybe there’s a brunch you can host. Consider offering to make pre-dinner cocktails and appetizers before trying to introduce new foods at the main event. If your father or mother makes a particular dessert every year, don’t usurp that flan or cake — make cookies to go with coffee instead. And take care of the smaller jobs, like pouring drinks, setting the table, and washing dishes. By making the host’s life easier, you become a stakeholder.
See how all this goes before mounting a full-scale assault on the turkey. Every time you win over an aunt or cousin with a spritzgebäck cookie or a negroni cocktail, you build popular support for an eventual regime change.
The final showdown should be a surrender rather than a confrontation. If you’ve played your cards right — a Thai salad appetizer one year, a crème caramel dessert the next — your little brother, your sister-in-law, and even your parents will eventually embrace change. The campaign should conclude via diplomacy: your family asking whether, having taken such an interest, you’d like to cook the holiday dinner next year.
But the joke’s on you. Because now you’re hosting the family on holidays. Now you have to remember to make something special for each finicky guest. Now you are the middle-aged parents overwhelmed by the hosting responsibilities of the season. And, one day, your children will mutiny, too.
It’s the grim cycle of human reproduction. You replaced your parents, but you’re just as replaceable. Soon you will join your ancestors — and every turkey that ever lived — in oblivion. And if, after the entirety of your being has been reduced to mere fertilizer, there should still be such a thing as consciousness, you will question why you didn’t just shut up and enjoy a meal that your parents had worked so hard to prepare.
Enjoy your eggnog.