What we think of a traditional Thanksgiving may or may not be traditional, depending on how far back in history you care to go. According to the Plimouth Plantation historical site, the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people did not serve turkey, mashed potatoes or many other “traditional” Thanksgiving foods. The meat could have been goose, duck, swan, or most likely venison. White potatoes did not come north from South American until far after the first celebration in 1621. Sweet potatoes were around, if you were in the Caribbean, but not in New England. What about dessert? Pumpkins may have been part of the meal, but as a vegetable. Sugar was very expensive. Most likely the colonists did not have butter or flour for a pie crust either. Apples are not native to North America so no apple pie.
Traditional Thanksgiving is a personal concept. I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a Midwest suburban household, so I consider canned cranberries, biscuits from a tube and marshmallow salad (what my family called ambrosia) to be traditional. My southern friends can’t imagine Thanksgiving without greens and macaroni and cheese. Americans in the southwest add may be serving cornbread just like my southern friends, but they may add in chiles and some bean dishes. Those on the coasts may add oysters to the stuffing.
My family is vegetarian. No turkey? Won’t it be missed? “It is fun to do something different on a holiday,” said my nephew Doug Meerschaert when asked about our meatless Thanksgiving. “Besides, it is more about being together than which food you eat.” Doug is right. No matter what you serve, the emphasis of this holiday is for us to pause and be grateful for all we have. So many people in the world struggle to get 4,000 calories in a week, much less in one meal.