For black families, Thanksgiving is an entirely different holiday than the traditional feast enjoyed by the dominant culture. When the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621, most black families in America weren’t invited to the festivities. In fact, legend has it that a particularly unruly enslaved African whispered to a Native Americans as they pulled up to the Plymouth Colony on Thanksgiving Day:
“Pssst. I’m not trying to throw shade, but I wouldn’t trust those motherfuckers with the buckles on their hats.”
No one quite knows the date of the first Black Thanksgiving but most historians agree that it took place shortly after the invention of seasoned salt. The holiday became popular in 1866 when Hattie Mae Jenkins combined pasta noodles with extra sharp cheddar in a casserole dish. (Editor’s note: Macaroni and cheese has actually been credited to James Hemings, slave of Thomas Jefferson and brother of Sally, who innovated the combination of cheese and pasta for American palates.)
Although many people associate the Black Legislative American Cookout Council (BLACC) with barbecues, the organization is also the official regulating body for fish fries, homecomings and repasses (funeral afterparties). Each year, we revise our rulebook to keep up with the customs and traditions of black gatherings.
Here are the 2019 rule changes and revisions:
In 1962, BLACC’s executive macaroni committee decided to limit all macaroni and cheese making to grandmothers, aunts and anyone over 50 with a sufficient supply of the upper-arm fat known as “church lady muscles.” In 1984, we extended those qualifications to dressing and sweet potato pies.
However, this year, we have decided to loosen those restrictions. Henceforth, any family member whose macaroni has been approved at two or more family functions is eligible for mac & cheese certification. It should go without saying that all licensed macaronians must still pass a kitchen inspection because we still can’t fuck with you if your kitchen is nasty.
We have also removed the age limit for Kool-Aid, iced tea and other beverages technicians, although measuring cups are still not allowed. It does not matter if you are a STEM graduate from a prestigious HBCU, the “Holy Ghost technique” is still the official BLACC method for drink-making:
You pour the sugar into the container until God speaks to your heart and tells you to stop.
While Thanksgiving meals vary depending on geography and tradition, all BLACC-approved Thanksgiving menus must have the following:
- Turkey: This goes without saying. It can be fried, baked or even smoked but if there is no turkey, you’re just having a family meal. A big hunk of turkey breast does not count, but turkey wings or legs do.
- Dressing: Not that stovetop bullshit either. That’s “stuffing.”
- Macaroni & Cheese: Aside from the above rules, there must also be someone present to regulate the size of macaroni scoops so you won’t run out of the “good” macaroni. Mac & cheese should be served in descending order from best to worst because anyone who is late doesn’t deserve top-level, auntie macaroni.
- Giblet gravy: Anyone who serves packaged gravy at Black Thanksgiving is eligible for excommunication and must immediately surrender their black card.
- Greens: Turnip, collards, cabbage, mustard—it doesn’t matter as long as they are sufficiently cleaned.
- Pies: Cakes are cool for church picnics and birthday parties, but there must be at least one pie present at Blacksgiving. After an emergency hearing, our sweets committee has determined that peach cobbler qualifies as a pie.
The Black Thanksgiving pre-meal prayer should only be given by a pastor, a board-certified deacon or an authorized family member who is saved, sanctified and filled with the Black Holy Ghost (preferably someone who has demonstrated the ability to speak in tongues). The family should hold hands during this ritual ceremony and it should last no more than six minutes.* Even if you believe in a different God (or none at all), all attendees should close their eyes and contribute at least one “hallelujah” or “praise him,” just in case.
Plus, everyone knows that the Bible says (I’m pretty sure of this) that Black Jesus can’t bless you if you keep your eyes open.
*If a family member catches the Holy Ghost during the pre-meal prayer, the entire family must wait 10 minutes or until the shouting dwindles down to an acceptable praise volume, whichever comes first.
Here is the order that food should be served:
- First-Platers: To qualify for first-plate privileges, you must be over 70, have a physical handicap or be listed at least four consecutive weeks on a qualifying house of worship’s “sick and shut-in” list. Until 2018, “first-platers” included all grandparents but for the past few years, too many 45-year-old dudes were getting first dibs on the dressing just because they got someone pregnant in high school.
- Elders: This includes deacons, board-certified ushers, candy ladies, tree-shade mechanics, men who carry pocket knives, any non-teacher who has a candy dish, and any black person over 50 who is commonly referred to as “mister___” or “sister___” (nuns not included).
- Grown folks: “Grown” does not have anything to do with a person’s legal age. In the black community, grown-ness is subjective. A 45-year-old who still lives with his mama is not grown but a 30-year-old who has been on the macaroni team for more than 10 years is, indeed “grown.” This also includes non-genetic “aunts” and “uncles.” Furthermore, all first-time, non-related guests over the age of 30 are considered “grown.”
- Young’uns: Includes “chirren,” teenagers, anyone whose bills are not in their name and children who “thinks they are grown.”
- Late people: If you miss the pre-meal prayer, you’re late.
- People who didn’t bring anything: You don’t get to eat until everyone has fixed their plate.
Unlike White Thanksgiving, no subject is off-limit at Black Thanksgiving. Feel free to talk politics, religion or even money. However, there are some subjects that take precedent and others that should be approached with care:
- Death: This is the only time BLACC advises anyone to lie. No black Thanksgiving meal is complete until the family discusses every single person who has passed on since last year. Even if you don’t know the person who has transcended to the great Wakanda in the sky, your family members will insist on making you remember that person. Therefore, if you don’t quite remember Sheila with the one short foot who used to go with Darnell who drove the burgundy Buick LeSabre who worked at the steel mill and used to sing alto in the men’s choir, just pretend you do. She died after a long battle with gout. And even if it is not medically proven, just admit that “you know how it is when them doctors start cuttin’ on you.”
- Money: Until BLACC secures our deal with Equifax and Experian, you should take the opportunity to manually check your black credit rating before you meet with family members because uncle Jimmy is going to remind you of that $23 you borrowed in ’94, especially if you arrive at Blacksgiving in a new car. Speaking of the past...
- Old shit: All Black Thanksgiving locations are designated as safe spaces from the past so don’t bring up your uncle Jimmy’s 12-year-bid for armed robbery. Even if you’ve seen the security footage and the fingerprint analysis linking him to the crime, when the subject comes up, you must acknowledge that he was framed. Also, please tell your cousin who struggles with addiction that she or he looks good. But keep an eye on your purse.
- Prepare a rhetorical response: Everyone at Black Thanksgiving will pose a rhetorical question that ranges from, “How have you been?” to “I know you making all the money.” No one really wants to hear your bullshit, they’re just being nice. But you must reply in a similar manner. The list of BLACC-approved responses includes: “Blessed and highly favored;” “I’m holdin’ it in the road;” or, my personal favorite, “I’m just trying to be like you when I grow up.”
Over the years, BLACC has issued many edicts concerning Black Thanksgiving-appropriate music. In 2019, we just want to note that Beyoncé’s version of “Before I Let Go” still has seven more years before it can be certified as part of the Black Thanksgiving playlist. And, while gospel music remains the dominant genre of music on our approved list, we have not yet qualified Kanye’s Jesus Is King.
In previous years, we mandated that the evening’s festivities could not end until The Temptation’s “Silent Night” or Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” was sung off-key by at least one consumer of brown liquor. However, because of changing state laws, we now accept cannabis as a social lubricant for intoxicated carolers.
This is one of the biggest sources of conflict at black gatherings. For the 122nd year in a row, we want to reiterate that no plate can be fixed until everyone has eaten seconds, at which time, main menu items are up for grabs. However, when it comes to desserts, you are only allowed to take one piece of pie, which can only be fixed no more than five minutes before your departure.
As always, one cannot fix a plate for people not in attendance unless they had to work, are in jail or are have been nominated and accepted for a prayer list. Although the plate-fixing hierarchy does not apply to leftovers, first-platers still get preferred access to macaronis and dressings.
Here is the order for saying goodbye at Black Thanksgiving:
- Your grandparents: They’re gonna ask you where your coat is, and then tell you that it is too cold to be outside without at least a light jacket. Then they will ask you if you fixed yourself a plate and inform you that they hid a whole pie that you can take with you.
- Your aunts: You have to kiss them on their cheeks and thank them for praying for you. Assure them that you are still paying your tithes and offerings.
- Uncles: Listen to them explain why this is the year that the Dallas Cowboys (the preferred team of uncles everywhere) will make it to the Super Bowl. The oldest uncle will ask if you need him to come to look at your alternator. Tell him no.
- Cousins: This includes play cousins and all family members within a 10-year age range. They’re going to ask where you got a whole pie from. Tell them to mind their business and that grandma loves you more than she loves them.
- Anyone on the porch: This includes the liquor drinkers, the weed-smokers, and all your nieces and nephews, whom you will have to give a dollar each and tell them that they can’t have any of your pie.
- Your favorite cousin: He or she is gonna walk you to the car and you will sit in the car with one foot out and one foot in, talking for a minimum of eight minutes.
- Whoever was in the bathroom: They’re gonna run out of the house and proclaim that they know you weren’t gonna leave without telling goodbye to your favorite aunt/niece/cousin. You’ll roll down the window and talk to them for 13 more minutes. Most of it will be explaining how you got a whole damn sweet potato pie to yourself.
*A brief word about white people
While all are welcome at Black Thanksgiving, all non-black attendees are required to pass an oral examination before arriving at the festivities. Usually, this quiz is given in the car on the way to the event. This is not racist. It is for everyone’s legal and physical protection.
The BLACC is still in litigation concerning the 2004 incident when Caucasian guest Amber Whitmore somehow wound up in the “elders” line between Sister Betty Jean, a licensed church secretary, and Uncle Peanut, who has repaired at least 2,203 alternators in his backyard. Amber admitted that she scooped a little bit of mustard greens during the pre-meal prayer while Sister Jean was speaking in tongues. After a brief hospital stay, Amber claimed that she thought Sister Jean was speaking a foreign language.
Amber remains on First Macedonia’s sick and shut-in list.
To be fair, she did have her eyes open.