Your Wackiest, Goofiest, Silliest, Sweetest Thanksgiving Traditions

November 16, 2015

At this point in the month, you've bookmarked a couple dozen turkey recipes. You're dealing with cranberry sauces up the wazoo and you're deciding whether to make sausage stuffing with sandwich bread or cornbread

Or are you?

Every year, the usual foods make it onto the covers of magazines and the homepages of cooking websites (including this one). But this time around, we wanted to hear about your less-than-typical Thanksgiving foods and traditions—to celebrate quirky games and wackadoo dishes that are too often dominated by the turkey-stuffing-cranberry sauce military-industrial complex.

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From sewing extra drumsticks onto the turkey to serving sticky rice in place of stuffing, here are the answers that made us laugh, scratch our heads, and remember what makes this holiday so special:

The turkey, to be sure of feeding everyone, had extra parts sewn all over the outside. My father would buy maybe a dozen drumsticks and before roasting, sew them at odd angles all over the bird, making it a centi-bird or perhaps a porcu-bird. He hated cranberries and so he made kumquat jam. His notion of the "tradition" was mixed up with Marxist fantasies of "to each according to his labor" or some such, and that meant he provided make-work for everyone. Mine was to make fudge, from the age of five up. He had no truck with the Anglos (his family having been deported from England) and sometimes made up our faces with warpaint. 

There was always a fish course. I call this fish "Dada-ist," for, like the fur-lined teacup, it could scarcely be functional. Dada's fish was a huge one, probably a sturgeon, as big as he could get into the oven. It was filled, like today's bird-within-a-bird concoction, the turducken, with fishes stuffed into each other, all the way to the smallest: a sardine. And baked. Pure concept. Hardly edible, as the roasting, to get the fish in the center cooked, produced a mass of flesh and bones that, without a pair of chopsticks (rare in the 1950s at tables like ours), was impossible to eat. 
- Merry White

I didn't grow up eating traditional Thanksgiving food, so I have a lot of off-beat traditions; sticky rice stuffing is one that I've created. I grew up eating Peking duck and rice on Thanksgiving, so I now make sticky rice stuffing to serve with the more traditional turkey. Also duck (when I can I get it from Chinatown). 

At this point, with Flour going on its sixteenth Thanksgiving season, a tradition in the Chang-Myers household at T-day is eating one of every single dessert we offer at the bakery to see how we did. So that's usually about five to six pies, three to four quickbreads, a cake, and a tart...or two. 
Joanne Chang

Every year I have a Friendsgiving for all my friends. What makes it unusual is that I have it 2 to 3 weeks early. The backstory is that I used to have an "orphan" Thanksgiving like those that are common around the city, but after a couple years I realized it'd be more fun if I could include friends who normally went home for the holiday. Thus was born Friendsgiving, and because nobody says no to a Thanksgiving meal, each year I pack my too-small apartment full of 25 or so friends.

Mostly we sit on the floor, and because I don't have enough knives, you might have to sit next to a "knife buddy" to share. The best part is we go around the room and everybody says what they're most thankful for, which is kind of incredible because we're a pretty sarcastic crew but everybody takes it pretty seriously.
Brian Voll

My mom couldn't cook a turkey to save her life, and the one time she tried she used too much orange zest and over sweetened her glaze. It was sour and sweet in all the wrong ways, and we wouldn't eat it. She saved her hosting reputation by making her Passover brisket the star of the show for every holiday, and it's never failed us.

I like to carry on this brisket tradition, but thankfully I'm much more savvy in the kitchen, so I always make a small bird every Thanksgiving in her honor. We never let her forget about that sour bird, because we're such a supportive family. ;)
Pamela W. (Pamela Loves Food

I commonly host an after Thanksgiving gumbo gathering. I make turkey and sausage gumbo, greens gumbo, red beans and rice, cornbread, and some sort of non-pie dessert (perhaps bread pudding, perhaps autumnal buckle, perhaps cake or trifle).

One Thanksgiving I decided to shirk the turkey (which I've always hated) and instead pay homage to Northwest Native Americans. We had salmon with blackberry sauce (a great way to use up summer preserves) and hazelnut and mushroom wild rice as the main course.  
Susie Wyshak (

My grandmother, Nanny Lu, loved to cook and experiment in the kitchen. She clipped recipes out of the newspaper and magazines every week, but I never saw her follow a single one.

One year at Thanksgiving, she served a "surprise" jello mold and proudly insisted everyone have a dollop alongside their turkey. Marshmallows and dried fruit floated in that jiggling green concoction, as did a very healthy dose of horseradish sauce. While our eyes watered from the unexpected flavor punch, she laughed delightedly at the taste.

Luckily, that recipe did not become a Thanksgiving family tradition. What did: her decadent chocolate meringue pie, which we begged her to make every holiday. I've never seen this pie served at any other Thanksgiving table, but perhaps it's a tradition in the South. Nanny Lu grew up on a horse farm in Tennessee, and many of her best recipes were passed down from her mother and grandmother.

A few years ago, my older brother asked her to teach him how to make this pie, crust and all. Of course, she didn't use a recipe. So while she cooked and my non-baker brother bombarded her with questions, I took notes and tried to translate her "a little of this" and "just enough of that" approach into instructions and measurements. My favorite lines from the resulting recipe: "Whip egg whites until you can turn the bowl upside down and the meringue stays put" and "bake until the meringue tips have a beautiful glowing tan." 
Kristin Harrison Ginsberg

An interesting thing that my Mom will always request during Thanksgiving is eggnog. She kicks off the holidays with the most festive of drinks! I know it's not super out there, but she has a saying that we all cheers to before we drink it: "Drink it slow; it's the only way to go." 
Zac LeMieux

We stuff our Thanksgiving bird with cereal—sometimes sugary, sometimes silly, not usually healthy but one year it was Grape Nuts. 
Danielle W. 

In our house we eat dessert first. We skip breakfast and eat pie and coffee at brunch time—usually around ten in the morning. Pie tastes better with coffee anyway, no? Plus, the sugar/caffeine bolus keeps you on your feet through the long morning and early afternoon spent on your feet in the kitchen. (By the way, as an aside, it's totally legal to crack open the first bottle of wine at eleven in the morning if you were up before the sun prepping the meal—it's basically happy hour at that point anyway.)

Then, by the time the Thanksgiving meal comes around, usually between 3 and 4, you're good to go and (God willing) maybe even a tad bit hungry. Probably not, because you've had to test out the pepper levels in the gravy (and you need several Parker House rolls to really figure out if you've nailed it), but you won't be that sick-to-your-stomach, kill-me-now full that winds up with you and the pumpkin pie pretending you don't notice each other across the crowded buffet line.

I've solved another first world problem!

We do a turkey naming game: All of the names go into the hat and we pick them out one by one and try to guess who’s put which in the hat. Last name out of the hat wins and the turkey is named!
Bob McHugh

We serve a sweet tea bourbon punch in a rectangular glass vessel that once held battery acid and is an upgrade from the foot washing bowl that my wife’s family used to use for another sort of holiday punch.
John T. Edge

My parents aren't from America so Thanksgiving wasn't a huge deal at our house. In fact, I can remember early Thanksgivings with frozen corn, stovetop stuffing, and instant mashed potatoes. When we were kids we were perfectly happy with that stuff. We loved it. 

I'm starting a new Thanksgiving trend of my own: travel! I'm taking a solo trip to Paris this year for the week of Thanksgiving. I'm going to try to go somewhere new every year.
Samantha Seneviratne (Love, Cake)


At one point—when I began hosting in my own home and taking over most of the cooking—I started writing a large punch list and taping it to my kitchen cupboard, just so I could keep track of what I was doing. I use my kids’ markers and try to make it colorful and festive, and over the years it’s become a focal point for whoever is here for dinner. They gather around it, look for old-favorites and new additions, make comments, and get excited to eat. I’ve kept all the menus I’ve made over the years and use it as a guide every year when I’m planning my menu.

The best stuffing I ever made was when I read the recipe wrong and added twice as much butter as the recipe required. To this day, I always double the butter on Thanksgiving.
Caroline Campion (Devil and Egg

My daughter's birthday is 11/27, which means that it often falls during the week of Thanksgiving. So far, it has fallen on Thanksgiving twice! So, in that respect, we have the new tradition of serving birthday cake on Thanksgiving. Since we travel to Florida to see my in-laws, we like to combine the Thanksgiving-birthday celebration into one big occasion. It makes the day even more fun for all of us!

Another funny thing that we've always done on Thanksgiving since I was little is serve my father's pickles. They are a favorite condiment at all times of the year so it makes sense to break them out for Thanksgiving, too!
- Kelsey Banfield (The Naptime Chef

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For obvious reasons it's also one of my husband David's busiest times of the year (the pitfalls of being married to a baker). By the time the big meal rolls around, he's usually running on fumes (his flour-dusted clogs by the back door). Even though we usually manage to cobble together the turkey day feast (a pot luck with a couple writer/editor friends in town, complete with foil-wrapped turkeys and a "s'mores bar"), we also stretch out the holiday with a few more get-togethers that take a lot less work, using the leftovers for stuff like cranberry margaritas, turkey posole (on the back porch), and/or turkey enchiladas. We're also ridiculously lucky in the turkey sandwich department; it's so great to have David's baguettes, walnut bread, and miche for the best day-after sandwiches.
Paula Disbrowe

I come from a veritable Partridge family: My parents and brother sing, my Dad owns more guitars than one reasonably should, my grandmother led her church choir, diligently and in soprano, every Sunday for many years.

But there's a weak link: My grandfather could do many things—he was a doctor, an illustrator, an author, and an antiques dealer—but he could never really hold a pitch. (Were he here, this would make him laugh.)

So the Doxology we sing before every big holiday meal (much to my chagrin as a perpetually embarrased teenager) started to take on a different name. Before we all stumbled through the verses—me mouthing the words, my mom and brother working some Tina Turner-style harmony—someone would announce it was time to sing the "Doc's Apology." We still call it that. I suspect we always will. 
Kenzi Wilbur

Do you also stuff your turkey with breakfast cereal??? Share your wacky and/or charming traditions with us in the comments!

52 Days of Thanksgiving
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52 Days of Thanksgiving

Top-notch recipes, expert tips, and all the tools to pull off the year’s most memorable feast.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Windischgirl
  • Lorrie Hanawalt
    Lorrie Hanawalt
  • Aliwaks
  • Betsey
  • Mlanterman
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Windischgirl November 23, 2015
Where' stage article about the boob rolls? I am baking a batch of Judy Unruh's Wedding Zwieback rolls for my niece's wedding on Thanksgiving Day. The rolls went into the oven looking like miniature brioche...and came out looking either phallic or like boob rolls!
Sigh...I might just have to take that loaf of semolina bread that's in the freezer; the rolls are a bit x-rated!
Windischgirl November 23, 2015
Ugh, autocorrect! That should read, "where's the..."
Lorrie H. November 18, 2015
We listen and sing along to Alice's Restaurant while we cook and we make a Turkey bomb out of a paper bag and blow it up! That tradition started as a way to get rid of my son's kindergarten art project and now I'm stuck with them every year but at least they go away!
Aliwaks November 17, 2015
Currently seeking new traditions- I had one with my Dad sometime in late September we would start planning and the conversation would start like this- " Lets not have anyone make anything this year" and it would progress over the months to daily sometimes hourly calls and emails discussing the menu and guest list and past guest trangressions that time my cousin brought a apple strudel that "looked like a dead baby" told us she thought she forgot to add sugar and then put in the warming drawer in the oven-where it was found several weeks later- or our first thanksgiving in Connecticut when we set the fire alarm off with the self cleaning oven (the lady from the alarm company explained how self cleaning ovens work to us). I get ther eteh night before we'd prep and order Chinese food, the day off my Dad would wake me up at 6 to get the turkey in the oven, we'd to the beach or take a walk-- and by 11 he'd tell me it was time to put out the apps ( guests were instructed to arrive at 1), I would put them out he'd toss back a few potato panckaes with smoked salmon, and while I was arranging the apps table I would return the the kitchen to find that the turkey was mysteriously missing its wing tips --and then the flats would be gone. ( I would eat the neck & tucches).

This is my 4th one without him, I try not to obsess but every year for so many years it was him and me, me and my Dad- it was our thing- and now my husband and I are trying to come up with something that's ours.
Betsey November 17, 2015
My dad roasts the turkey but my vegetarian stepmom makes the gravy, and it's usually the best I've ever had.
Mlanterman November 16, 2015
My college friends and I get together every November for a long a weekend and rent a house in the mountains where we do an alliterative thanksgiving dinner. We pick a letter, and everyone has to bring a dish to the house that starts with the letter of the year. It makes for an interesting potluck, and lots of delicious leftovers for the rest of the long weekend. After dinner we all go around the table and say sappy things about how much we love each other, and then we sit down for the talent portion of the evening, in which everyone has to perform a middle school talent show style sketch, song, or feat of strength. It's lots of fun, and then we spend the rest of the weekend relaxing and pretending like we are still in college.

This upcoming weekend is our eighth annual alliterative Thanksgiving, and the letter is w, so it's Wanksgiving. The menu so far includes waffle fries (loaded), wings, waldorf salad, beef wellington, weiner schnitzel, waffled stuffing and potatoes, and wassail. Maybe not the most balanced or composed supper, but it's my favorite meal of the year.
Sarah J. November 16, 2015
WOWOW that sounds so fun!!!! Thank you for sharing.
Mlanterman November 16, 2015
It's the best!