African American Parents Children Family Eating At Dining Table

Some should renew the traditions of Thanksgiving Day dinners in years past by focusing on relationships with family and friends. — PHOTO: Darren Baker

How was your Thanksgiving Day dinner? Well, if you were around prior to the 1970s, I can bet that this Thanksgiving was not like those of the past.

However, I imagine that some of you did experience a Thanksgiving Day dinner like those of the past. But, for many of us the differences start with the venue for dinner and those in attendance. For many of us, pre-70s Thanksgiving Day dinners were celebrated, mostly at the home of our parents.

This was not just the case when we were children and teenagers, but the practice often continued at our parents’ homes after we married and had our own families. Why? It was something ingrained into Black families back in the day.

Thanksgiving Day has been a holiday that especially emphasizes family. Thus, a special day like this had to be at our parents’ home — the home where we enjoyed so many Thanksgiving Day dinners.

Those attending Thanksgiving Day dinners — aside from our parents — were our siblings, their spouses and children, and other immediate family members. It was not unusual for a special friend to have a seat at the table. If you think about those that were at your Thanksgiving Day dinner this year, then you also may reflect on those who have been gone for many years.

Unfortunately, those faces filled with joy, determination and love, will never be there again. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and other loved ones are gone.

In spite of the years that have gone by, I recall exactly where many of them sat at the Thanksgiving Day table. On this Thanksgiving Day, there were no special seats. In fact, some people did not sit at the table. Instead, they filled their plates and went to another room to eat, talk and watch television.

While the venue and those seated at the dinner table were different this year, as I reflect on my Thanksgiving Day dinner this year, there were other differences from back in the day.

I have no doubt that many of you can relate to some of the noticeable differences in Thanksgiving Day dinner this year. While I had a delightful dinner at my brother’s home, I am certain that he would agree with me that some of the things that I shall highlight were not like dinner on North 43rd Street when we were young. While everyone in attendance stood around the dinner table and held hands for blessing, the blessing was quite different from back in the day when our father gave a “major” blessing of the food.

This experience might have been annoying to some, but I would give anything to experience it again today. My father, like many fathers, gave one of those long, old-fashioned blessings. I vividly recall how the young kids became impatient and snickered, as the blessing continued; but because of discipline and respect, they immediately stopped after noticing a stern look from my mother.

Then there was the food. Food today was not like it was in the past. Just think about your turkey. I will bet that it was not as moist. I suspect that the steps taken to speed up the process for turkeys to reach the market and our dinner tables result in differences in a turkey’s texture and flavor today. They do not compare to my mother’s turkey back in the day. Some people do not cook their turkeys any more as they purchased cooked turkeys in advance from supermarkets.

How many of you recall the dressing being stuffed inside of your turkey? I have not seen this for many years. You may also recall the days when the entire turkey was on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table. Not anymore as the turkey is carved and then bought out to the dinner table on trays or dishes.

I do not ever recall turkey on Thanksgiving Day without cranberry sauce. Cranberry sauce was a must in my family when serving turkey on Thanksgiving Day. When I was a teenager and young adult, my mother always had celery sticks stuffed with egg salad. This was definitely missing from my dinner table this year.

However, there is a good chance that your dinner, like mine, included at least one or two of the popular and favorite dishes from the past. So, did you enjoy macaroni and cheese or sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows? What about rolls that were piping hot when you sat down at the table? One thing I can guarantee, your rolls this past Thursday did not compare with those homemade rolls that came out of our mothers’ ovens, back in the day.

Desserts were quite different back in the day. They too were prepared from scratch. The memories of helping my mother prepare the batter for a variety of desserts will be with me forever. I can still taste the batter that I scraped from the clay bowl in which my mother mixed the ingredients. The tin cake pans in which my mother eventually poured the batter can also be readily recalled. As I write this column, I picture, an array of desserts that were baked in the oven; pound cake, layered chocolate cake, layered jelly cake, coconut pie, apple pie, sweet potato pie, raisin pie, bread pudding and cinnamon buns. The desserts that my mother prepared were not only in abundance but were better tasting than any products you can find in stores today. Her desserts truly illustrated what many of us remember and sorely miss from the past. If you had desserts, in particular, sweet potato pie this past Thanksgiving Day dinner, I bet that it came from Shop Rite or one of the other supermarkets. It was the delicious homemade products of our mothers that tempted us to devour two or three desserts.

As I think about Thanksgiving Day’s dinners of the past, one thing comes to mind that some people do today that was unheard of, back then. How many people went out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving Day dinner this year? Hopefully, you did not as Thanksgiving Day dinner cannot be Thanksgiving Day dinner unless you ate at home or at a relative’s home.

While I can reflect endlessly on those fond memories of the past, perhaps you can take this column as the impetus to plan for something different for Thanksgiving in 2020. Why not commit yourselves to one of those old-fashioned Thanksgiving Day dinners that our ancestors shared in bygone years?

Even though we are in another decade, let us plan for returning to those traditional values that we embraced in the past. Let us eat a great deal, but enjoy the meal, as in the past, in the company of immediate and extended family. Let us renew the traditions of Thanksgiving Day dinners by focusing on relationships with family and friends. Let us embrace those lessons that made us good and respectful people. Let us plan to make Thanksgiving Day dinner next year extra special and in keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving Day dinners that we experienced with our families, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 South 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146.

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