Although I am known mostly for my groundbreaking research in wypipology and cookout studies, my family background has given me extensive experience in Thanksgiving-related arts and sciences.
Seriously. Because I was raised in a family of women who love to cook and are saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost, we never had family dance parties. None of my aunts know how to do the Wobble (Well, my aunt Joyce might, but everyone knows she’s a heathen). Most of my family traditions revolve around thanking Jesus for his many blessings and potlucks.
While most people only celebrate the holiday once a year, my family averages about 6 to 12 Thanksgivings every year. Every birthday, religious holiday and anniversary served as a potluck supper complete with passed-down potato salad recipes and multiple flavors of Kool-Aid. I was a grown man before I realized it was a holiday. I still get texts from family members that say: “We’re having a Thanksgiving on March 20 at Marvell’s house.”
As a veteran of roughly 323 Thanksgivings, I’d like to offer some rules to help you make it through the holiday. Having never experienced a White Thanksgiving (I assume it’s the same but with more casseroles and more light-skinned gravy) these rules apply specifically to Black Thanksgivings.
Thanksgiving dinner starts promptly at 3 p.m., which means 4:19. But you know that someone is going to call you and tell you to bring some ice, so you should leave early. Plus, if you’re late you will be subjected to second-tier macaroni from a non-sanctioned macaroni-maker. Right now, I’m going to reveal some advice that I have kept hidden in my heart for years:
Always arrive early.
When you get there, there’ll be about five aunts in the house finishing up the food. Here’s the key: You gotta start lying. Tell Aunt Jesse that Aunt Brenda told you to check on the dressing. Tell aunt Brenda that Jesse told you to check on the pies. Tell Shirley to mind her damn business.
However, instead of checking on the potato salad, what you’re really doing is fixing plates. The key is to get your food from the backup pies and pans. The first-round food drafts should be left untouched because someone will surely notice that hole in the corner of the macaroni (Probably aunt Brenda’s nosey ass).
When everyone is scrambling to fix leftover plates, you’ll be drinking brown liquor.
Pro tip: Fix two plates. Someone is going to steal one.
Don’t be yourself
No one knows who you are, and even those who do don’t give a damn about you. If you are over the age of 25, to your family members you are frozen in time somewhere between 14 and 16. Don’t upset family members by being enlightened or grown. You spend four hours a year with your family, don’t make it all about you.
If you are an atheist, bow your head during grace. Even if you believe God doesn’t exist, there’s no need to give grandma a heart attack by announcing your agnosticism to your family unless you want to spark an impromptu prayer circle and have your uncle Otis lay hands on you to cast out that demon of non-belief.
If you stopped eating meat, I understand the 10 commandments of the vegan Bible states that you must extoll the gospel of a plant-based diet, but no one wants to hear that shit. It’s Thanksgiving, nigga. If Jesus didn’t want us to eat meat he wouldn’t have made oxtails so delicious.
When someone asks when you’re going to get married to your high school boyfriend, don’t tell them that you broke up because he cheated on you. Say “he’s fine” and ask for some more sweet potato pie.
Pro tip: If you really can’t stand to hear your ex’s name, tell everyone he died during an autoerotic asphyxiation episode. That’ll shut them up.
Plus, they’ll give you more pie.
Do Your Duty
Someone at your Thanksgiving dinner is going to say something bigoted. Although it might be awkward, it’s your duty to say something. You don’t have to proselytize, but you can interject with something that makes them think.
When your uncle says how he doesn’t approve of homosexuality, tell him that you didn’t approve of him cheating on your Aunt Linda with the pastor’s wife, but his sexual activities are none of your business. Then pause, look around, and say:
“Oops did I say that out loud? Does anyone want some more tea? Not you, uncle Jimmy because it might be too ‘sweet’ for you.”
Pro Tip: Never be afraid to speak out. Your family is more enlightened than you think. Even your nosey-ass aunt Brenda will thank you. Then she’s gonna call the pastor’s wife.
Dos and Don’ts:
- DO bring something no one thought of: When 10 or more black people are together, I always bring aluminum foil. Black people need aluminum foil more than they need civil rights. In addition to my dish, I always bring a bunch of styrofoam, restaurant-style to-go plates. They always come in handy.
- DON’T bring something new: Stick with tradition. Thanksgiving is not the time for new shit. Plus, you’re gonna be sad when your pan of gluten-free Australian cornbread is sitting on the counter untouched until your 12-year-old cousin takes a bite and yells: “Grandma! Tell everyone not to eat this cornbread. It must have rotten milk in it or something. It’s nasty!”
- DON’T try to clean up the Kool-Aid stain with a napkin: You’re gonna spill some on your pants and try to clean it off with a paper towel. Trust me, it won’t come out that way.
- DO try to clean it up, though: Kool-Aid is like red wine, the only thing that can get the stain out is more Kool-Aid. Lemon Kool-Aid gets out red Kool-Aid. Red Kool-Aid gets out Grape. Nothing gets out orange Kool-Aid stains but the blood of Jesus. That’s actually where the song comes from.
- DON’T fill up on turkey: One amateur mistake that people make is eating too much turkey. If a Thanksgiving menu was New Edition, the turkey would be Ralph Tresvant. You can’t have Thanksgiving without turkey, because it’s the staple. However, macaroni is the Bobby Brown of Thanksgiving. When it’s good, it’s the best part and you even like it solo. Or when you mix some collards and candied yams and dressing all together, it’s pretty good too. That’s BBD. To finish the analogy, Johnny Gill would be cranberry sauce—you just need a little bit.
- DO make sure you ask for a promotion: It’s important to continue your trajectory in the family hierarchy. Nothing is worse than being relegated to the children’s table at 31. You’re old enough to not have to go get ice anymore, tell them to ask Keisha.
- DO eat the stuff no one else wants: Make a big plate of the third-tier macaroni, the store-bought pound cake, the bloody fried chicken and your cousin’s white girlfriend’s pumpkin pie (yes, pumpkin pie is trash). Walk around and let everyone see you eating it, especially the people who brought that bullshit to the dinner. Then, as quietly as possible, throw it in the trash. The people who brought it will think you ate it and love you forever.
- DON’T chitlin-shame: Some people eat ass. Deal with it. It takes all kinds.
- DO bring candy: When you’re full and have the itis, use it to bribe your nieces and nephews to do things for you.
- DO engage the family Hotep: I know you don’t want to listen to the plot to strip masculinity from the black family by injecting black men with high-fructose corn syrup, but someone has to. Plus, he thinks you like him because you ate his white girlfriend’s pumpkin pie.
And finally, make sure you enjoy the time you spend with your favorite cousins, your aunts, uncles and nieces. You only get to do this once (or in my case, 13.2) times a year. Thanksgiving is like a cookout without smoke in your eyes and mosquito bites. Remember to love everyone, even your nosey ass Aunt Brenda.
... Even if she stole that plate you fixed.
Happy Black Thanksgiving!