Thursday, 23 November 2017

Why Thanksgiving Dinner Is Served So Early

Being an outsider, national holidays are not that much of a celebration to me. For instance, several years ago on Canada Day I didn’t know that the stores were closed in Toronto and it was a bit of struggle to find dinner. The same can be said about my time later in the U.S. Whether it’s Thanksgiving or even Christmas, I almost always spend these holidays alone. The alone part is nothing knew, but rather it’s in contrast to most people who have family and friends to celebrate with on such occasions. 

This had been the norm until a few days ago when I received a message from a Brotherman and relative, inviting me to a Thanksgiving “get-together” with his cousins. Neat.

Yesterday he sent another message, informing me that he’ll pass by at 3:00 pm. I confirmed. But then later on, the word “Thanksgiving Dinner” came to mind, because I have heard it so many times before. It was never “Thanksgiving Lunch”. Hm. 

If I wasn’t aware that his cousins live close by on the Westside of L.A, I may have thought that we’ll be going somewhere far to leave that early. To satisfy my curiosity, I simply Googled the matter and the following are the findings.

First, there are already full articles about the query: Why We Eat Thanksgiving Dinner So Early. Yey! I’m not alone.

Second, the interesting answers...

The historical reason is that “dinner” was once the main meal of the day, served around one or two in the afternoon, even earlier; while “supper” was a lighter meal eaten by sunset — sometimes just a snack. This practice may have originated from all the way back to the Middle Ages.

Another reason goes back to tradition: It is how things have been in my grandmother’s household while growing up”. So when children grow up and have families of their own, they just do it as they always did, which, depending on each family, is usually by 2 or 3 pm. In fact, some mention that they used to get to their grandmother’s place by 2, then the food is served by 3. 

Interestingly, this bit reminded me of my late grandmother’s house in Cairo where she would host a weekly family lunch — called lunch though. Her household would welcome family members and their friends every single week since the day I was born. From 2 to 3 pm is the arrival time, which differed from guest to guest. Then we proceed to the dining room for the yummy food and the loud conversations. 
Ah, I miss her lovely soul.

A third possible reason why Thanksgiving dinner is served earlier in the day is the convenience for those travelling guests. Apparently, some do travel for long distances to be with their families on that special occasion. So it is for them to have time to arrive, devour that hearty meal, rest for a while, then say adios. I now recall watching a footage showing insane bumper-to-bumper traffic in Los Angeles.

An additional reason which was totally new to me is that Thanksgiving Day always synchronises with American football games — two games were originally played, becoming three in 2006. The concept of football games being played on that day dates back to 1876, shortly after the sport had been invented. Probably due to the fact that most folks had a day off then. By now, watching NFL after eating may seem like an integral part of the itinerary for many Americans.

A final theory is that by starting early, people can enjoy a more relaxing, longer day of celebration. As mentioned by some, this way they can eat from the leftovers like turkey sandwiches and pies when they get hungry later. They actually consider this one of the plus sides to eating early. You know, more time means more eating from the same food you just ate from a few hours earlier. Yeah, people are funny like that.  

All that said, not all Americans have their Thanksgiving meal at 2-3 pm. Some serve it at 7 pm as they do with their everyday dinner. 

A similar phenomenon can be noticed during Christmas, during which sitting on the table can start as early as noon. But again, not everyone does that as it depends from family to the other.

I wonder how people deal with consuming this full, sit-down meal made of turkey and gravy and potatoes and pies that early in the day while their norm is to eat much later. Perhaps that is why many feel so stuffed afterwards. 

Personally, my lunch had been a banana and an avocado for a few years now. So whenever I go out for lunch I try to make sure to have a much earlier breakfast rather than the egg-brunch I have daily by 10:30-11. Just to have time to digest and get at least a bit hungry. Often a salad could then be enough. 

In recent years when I would go back to Egypt for visits, those weekly lunches at my grandmother are where I reconnect with the entire family; also the food is mouthwatering. So those days I make sure to have a truly light breakfast, that by 3 I have to be hungry.  

I truly hope to be a bit hungry today. Then again, I am not required to stuff myself like a turkey to play along the festivities. But I sure am excited for the experience as I am excited to be around people; I even wore pants, plus, wait for it, shoes, for the first time in a while. How fancy. 

While scribbling those last few lines at around noon on Thanksgiving Day of 2017, I received one more message from my buddy, asking if passing by at 2 instead of 3 would be fine. I giggled and told him what I’m writing about, to which he replied that I should probably share the story with everyone over our 3 pm dinner.


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