To be honest, I don't really remember what I ate on Thanksgiving when I was growing up. Oh, sure, there was turkey, but I think that my mom was in charge of the meal — and being that she is a native of the Philippines, the traditional bird was accompanied by rice and Filipino dishes. I do remember that at some point in my early grade school career, we were served a Thanksgiving lunch in the cafeteria (which was a Big Deal since we all had to bring our own lunches every day). It featured more expected fare, like mashed potatoes and boiled carrots. After which, I returned home to ask why we didn't eat those things when we had Thanksgiving — and so they began to appear at our Thanksgiving meals. We never did eat green bean casserole or cranberry jelly or things like that. I often wonder if this was because my father, having been born and raised in the Midwest and having escaped to San Francisco as a young man, was trying to get as far as he could from the cuisine of Minnesota by pretending it didn't exist. (He is a gourmand of sorts, who likes to avoid the convenience foods of his upbringing and who, I think, inspires the way I cook today.) Anyway, my parents being who they are resulted in less than memorable Thanksgivings for me, to say the least.
Even now, I have to admit that I'm not that excited about my family's Thanksgiving meal. In recent years, the turkey has been featured with my mother's mashed potatoes, my aunt's molded iceberg salad, grocery store pies, rice (of course), and a variety of Filipino dishes. It's those other dishes, the ones my mom's side of the family are best at making, that demand my attention at Thanksgiving lunch. Bring on the palabok, I say! I love that so many people, no matter what country they might hail from, seem to enjoy celebrating Thanksgiving (well, how could you not want to celebrate an entire day dedicated to eating?) and that I hear so many cultural variations on the meal — which include lechon, hot pot, or Korean barbecue. But leave the turkey out then. "Tradition" isn't worth it if the meat's dried out.
For many years, I've made up for the lack of those American traditions I never had by making my own separate Thanksgiving meal. Sometimes it was just prepared for me and the Anthropologist, but more recently, I've been having friends over to share in potluck-style Thanksgiving gluttony. I make roast chicken and pie, while they bring sides dishes and more pie. We eat the foods we love now as adults and make new memories together. And isn't that what Thanksgiving is truly all about?