Do you have any dishes that you eat on Thanksgiving but not at any other time of year? On my family Thanksgiving table, you will find canned cranberry sauce. You have to open both sides of the can, carefully jiggle out the jelly in one big lump, and then slice it into circles, which must be served in a ring on a pretty plate. The reason we only eat canned cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving is—well, it’s that no one really likes it very much.
I bet you have some dishes like that. Marshmallows on sweet potatoes, maybe? String bean casserole? You might wonder why we serve these dishes at all. The answer is clear: because even traditions that don’t have much meaning in themselves have the power to pull back together what the years have separated. We serve traditional dishes because they bring back memories.