Why Celebrating Thanksgiving Potluck Style is Superior

Celebrations for my family have always been very food focused. That isn’t to say that we wouldn’t want to spend time together otherwise. I just honestly can’t remember the last time we got together as a big group, and eating wasn’t involved. Regardless, this has always meant that holidays generally centered around food anyway (like Thanksgiving) tend to get a bit intense. As much as I would love to sit around the dinner table and discuss thankfulness and the current going ons with my family members, the very beginning of the meal is fully dedicated to chowing down on whatever delicious goodies people have brought. We’ve always celebrated the Thanksgiving meal potluck style. There are several reasons for this regarding Thanksgiving specifically. However, I would also argue that potlucks, in general, are one of the best ways to celebrate with the people you are close to. 

Potluck style celebrations have and always will be superior in my mind. One such reason for this is simply to be kind to the host. In my family’s case, this is generally my grandparents. They are both wonderful and efficient cooks but expecting them to prepare food for 20-some people isn’t exactly reasonable. Thus, the potluck style saves them from having to begin the food prep process several days in advance. Other people bringing in their own dishes takes some of the strain off, even if they are still responsible for the larger courses such as the turkey itself. 

Another simple and very effective argument for potlucks is that it makes for more food. At the start of the ideal Thanksgiving meal, I want to be slightly overwhelmed with just how many dishes are on the table. I want to glance down the excessively laden table and have legitimate trouble choosing what I would like to put on my plate first. If there aren’t a confusing variety of mashed potatoes, turkey, cranberry sauce and less traditional condiments spilling over the edges of my plate, it truly wouldn’t feel like my family’s rendition of the holiday. More people bringing food means more food, and I doubt anyone can argue that this is a bad thing. 

pasta Photo by Viktor Hanacek from Picjumbo

Not only does everyone bringing something make for more quantity, but it also adds to the quality. If anyone person were to have to prepare everything, they may be forced to split their efforts in a way that makes some of the food slightly lacking. However, if each family unit is assigned a specific edible task, then equal amounts of love and care will be put into each dish. It also results in a wider variety of not only types of food but also cooking style. Thanksgiving food, in my opinion, tends to carry the same flavor profile no matter how separate you try to keep them on your plate. The one way to get around this is having several chefs prepare the food rather than one. This makes it so whole new spice cabinets and styles of cooking are dedicated to different parts of the meal. In the end, I don’t really know why this matters to me, as I tend to just mash everything together into a chaotic pile on my plate. But to other more organized and less childish eaters, my point still stands. 

apple pie Photo by Priscilla Du Preez from Unsplash

The potluck-style of celebration can also allow for some people to develop specialties. Although I’m sure it took some time to figure out what these were for people, in the past few years, each family unit seems to have adopted a specific type of food or dish they are responsible for contributing to the Thanksgiving table. For example, my aunt is almost always in charge of the mashed potatoes while my mother brings desserts. This makes it so there isn’t a whole lot of competition over who is expected to bring what, as well as assure each person has their own little niche. My mother has always been the one to take on the very important responsibility of the Thanksgiving desserts. The assortment of pies and cakes that she decides upon changes each year, but it has made it, so she has become an accomplished baker. No matter the state of the rest of our meal (not to imply that my aunt’s mashed potatoes aren’t exceedingly good), I always know that the sugary end to it will be reliably delicious. 

Family cooking together Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

On the actual emotional side of things, I do think that the Thanksgiving dinner being potluck style makes for a more interesting meal and brings family members closer together. Constant questions such as “who made this?” and “what even is this?” (normally in reference to the vegetarian option of the turducken) are repeated over and over around the table. Not only this, but it also allowed for excessive compliments and bragging rights. For example, a simple statement of “wow, these mashed potatoes are even better than last year” can imply that whoever was responsible for making them is the superior chef to who made them prior. And even if it were brought by the same person both times, then it just means their cooking skills have improved. I remember last year I ended up contributing several dishes and the entirely of the meal felt dedicated to other family members, appreciating the effort I had put in. I’m not sure if this was more due to the food actually being good or the fact that I had been the only grandchild to pitch in cooking-wise. No matter the reason, being served a huge helping of validation along with my meal was a definite plus. 

Nick Miller New Girl GIF Dinner GIPHY / 20th Century Fox Television

Overall, I don’t actually love Thanksgiving as a holiday. However, the food and literal days of meal preparation and planning makes it worth it. I attribute this to it being in good company as well as the potluck style itself. Not only does each new person contribute their unique ideas and personality (the conversations at our table generally branch from loud to painfully loud) but also the food item that might go along with it.