When aliens land on a future abandoned Earth, or when the next great species takes over after humans have long since destroyed themselves in a millennia or so, Thanksgiving will be a great anthropological discovery.
There is much to be learned about how we interact with our family and friends, the food and drink we consume and even how we take care of (or don’t) our bodies from this great national holiday. So much so, that it only seemed natural to try and list all the things I’ve learned about the fourth Thursday in November just from being MEL’s resident meta-curator, and holy shit, there might be only 27 things now, but I could have gone on for ages.
From leaving work early the day before, to having sex post-Thanksgiving dinner, to how not to wind up in a local hospital with a holiday-related injury, here’s (almost) everything we’ve ever written about this most sacred of days…
Before the Meal
1) I know we’re a little late on this one, but keep it mind for next year: Don’t think you’re simply free to waltz out of the office any damn time you please on the day before Thanksgiving.
“Usually this is discussed in advance within the department so that coverage is assured,” says Terry Petracca, an HR rep and executive coach. “Unless the company is shutting down — which would be announced — a core group of employees will need to be in the office until end of day.” What that means is, if you just take off without telling anyone thinking no one’s really going to care, you could be in a world of trouble if it turns out they do care. So don’t risk it, capeesh?
2) Keep in mind, however, that you don’t have to go home for Thanksgiving if your family straight-up sucks. Maybe your parents voted for Trump, and start chanting “lock her up” the moment you walk in the door. Maybe your family is just chock-full of self-centered assholes. Whatever your particular reason, you have every right to decide your shitty family isn’t worth the hassle anymore. And if you’re feeling guilty about it, keep in mind that research suggests estrangement might be the healthiest thing you ever do.
3) If you’re meeting your partner’s family for the first time, don’t stress out — just be yourself and you’ll do fine. But if you’re worried they hate you already, there are some subtle cues you can pick up on. Like, how’s their body language? Are they excluding you from conversation? Are they looking around for anyone else they’d rather be talking to? Before you starting freaking out and getting all paranoid, though, psychotherapist and relationship expert Lisa White recommends giving them the benefit of the doubt early on. “Wait until they do it twice before you bring it up with your partner.” And if it does happen again, don’t frame it like, “I think your family hates me,” because that forces your partner to take sides. Instead, describe the situation objectively, and then get their take on what they think happened.
4) Speaking of which, if you’re on a mission to get the guests at your Thanksgiving dinner to like you, go on the offensive. No, not be offensive, that’ll get you banned for life. Go on the offensive, as in the charm offensive. Two easy ways to do that are A) offer to bring a dish (more on that in a second) and B) help in the kitchen. Can you use a knife? Offer to carve! Are your kitchen skills limited to washing and drying dishes? Make that glass stemware sparkle. If all else fails, learn a joke or two.
5) So you’re making a dish… Great! Are you going to pick from the healthy side of the classic Thanksgiving menu, or are you going to go with some straight trash food? We asked a dietitian to rank the 10 most popular side dishes according to how bad (or good) they are for you, and as expected, it’s Brussels sprouts by a Belgian country mile.
6) But take comfort in the fact that, if you decided to go with the bottom of that list (looking at you, creamed corn), turkey is one of the healthiest proteins around. Not as healthy as fish, but who eats fish on Thanksgiving?
7) Enough about sides — what if you’re in charge of the main dish? MEL founder and editor-in-chief Josh Schollmeyer has been talking about his love of a special type of turkey for years: Heritage turkeys, i.e., those birds with heirloom bloodlines raised in small batches instead of on industrial farms. They might be more expensive, but if you can afford them, your turkey is going to blow your guests away.
8) There’s an art to achieving the perfect level of drunk when you’re cooking on the big day. But the first thing that you should know is, getting too drunk while cooking is a great way to hurt yourself and/or the people around you, so be careful with the cocktails. More generally, the three keys to trying to balance the urge or pressure to drink on Thanksgiving are knowledge, awareness and preparation. As in, know your limits, be aware of how quickly your body metabolizes alcohol (¾ of a cocktail per hour for most men) and prepare to pace yourself accordingly. You’ll survive if you don’t get wasted before sitting down to eat, I promise.
9) Making a fire for the family doesn’t have to be a struggle. Last year we talked to three fire experts about how to build the perfect fire, and the key is to start small, simple and slow. Essentially, build a tiny foundation of dry wood (preferably pine, spruce or other softwoods), spark a flame, get things roaring hot and then drop the big logs on. Rolled up newspaper makes for great kindling, but try to maximize surface area and air flow, so you don’t kill your fire before it ever gets started.
10) Maybe building a fire isn’t for you. No worries — Netflix has plenty of fake fireplaces to choose from. As such, we asked firemen and a film critic to pick out their favorite flaming piles of digital wood just for you.
11) With all this talk about wood, I’d be remiss to not bring up the fact that, for a lot of guys, smashing their own wood while back in their childhood homes is actually a thing. This week, C. Brian Smith spoke to a bunch of men who have found a sort of nostalgic peace jerking off in the beds of their adolescence, using their old nudie mags with that same old risk factor of a family member barging in at the wrong moment. I promise, you’ll never look the same at an Atari joystick again.
During the Meal
12) Keep in mind: Some relatives are batshit crazy, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Thankfully, we had our resident astrologer, Erin Taj create this Astrologer’s Guide to help you deal with the crazy people you love, but don’t like. Careful of those Leos.
13) Just like with cooking, there’s also a perfect level of inebriation for dealing with your crazy family — in the off-chance our Astrologer’s Guide isn’t quite working its starry magic, of course. Here’s what a bartender, a guy with a ton of in-laws, a dietitian and the director of a rehab all said about getting fucked up with your family.
14) When you’re finally ready to dig into some turkey, it may surprise you, but the tastiest bits are the healthiest — namely the breast and the legs. Things a lot of people don’t touch, like the liver, feet and gizzards, are mainly just fat and cartilage, which won’t win you any points with your nutritionist.
15) It should be noted, however, that turkey isn’t actually the first thing you’ll want to eat in the marathon of a meal that is Thanksgiving dinner — there is actually an order in which to eat this gargantuan feast to provide optimum gut conditions, and possibly even mitigate that post-Thanksgiving food coma. First, start with the veggies, because they’re soluble fiber, and that ought to slow down your body’s uptake of all the carbs you’re going to eat later. Second, move onto your protein, and eat it slow — chewing thoroughly allows you to absorb all those healthy amino acids and other nutrients you’d otherwise plow right through. Lastly, move onto your starchy dishes like stuffing and mashed potatoes. By now you’ve laid the groundwork to prevent a massive spike in your blood sugar by eating your veg and your protein first. And that means less food coma afterwards.
16) Dessert isn’t going to help your blood-sugar level, but it doesn’t have to wreck it, either. When we asked a nutritionist to rank the most popular Thanksgiving desserts, it wasn’t too surprising to see pies like pumpkin and sweet potato comfortably on top. But definitely stay away from sugar bombs like chocolate, lemon meringue and pecan. Those guys have “diabetic shock” written all over them.
17) “Kendra’s Thanksgiving Stuffing” isn’t a new recipe you should try out on your unsuspecting family. That’s because it’s not stuffing at all — it’s the name of adult actress Kendra Lust’s Thanksgiving-themed porn, and one of many from the subgenre. According to Pornhub, consuming holiday-themed porn is as much a part of Americans’ winter celebrations as pumpkin pie and eggnog. The adult content aggregator reported last year that in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, searches involving the words “Pilgrim” grew by 6,214 percent and “Thanksgiving” by 2,381 percent.
18) Thanksgiving may be a celebration of excess, but it could also be the perfect opportunity for one last send off before quitting everything terrible in your life — cold-turkey style.
After the Meal
19) You’re going to feel like taking a nap after eating, but it won’t be because of any tryptophan, that amino acid people have been blaming for their turkey-induced food coma for years now. The truth is, turkey only has a small amount of tryptophan in it.
There is, however, a nugget of reality in all the tryptophan talk — it’s a chemical precursor to the neurotransmitters melatonin and serotonin, which are known to make you sleepy and happy, respectively. So what would happen if you, I dunno, took it in pill form? A couple of years ago we asked Sam Dean to buy a bunch of encapsulated tryptophan, take it over the course of a week and see if it helped with his anxiety and insomnia. He definitely noticed a difference — just not the one he was expecting.
20) Another myth is the post-holiday weight gain. Completely overblown! If you’re in decent shape, the most you can expect to gain, according to the experts, is about a pound. Overweight folks, however, are in a bit more trouble, because they tend to gain more — closer to five pounds — and then don’t do anything about it after the holidays.
21) The flip side of the myth of the Great Holiday Fattening is that trying to stave off that extra pound (or five) with a pre-meal “Turkey Trot” isn’t going to do much, either. Think about it: Working out for one hour beforehand probably burns off the same amount of calories you’re going to be consuming in less than five minutes once you’re tableside. Doesn’t mean it won’t feel like an accomplishment, though.
22) What about some post-meal sex? It definitely counts as exercise, and if you think about it, you might be able to slip in an extra dollop of mashed potatoes considering the 100 to 200 calories the average person burns doing the ol’ diagonal hokey pokey.
But even having sex after consuming nearly 4,000 calories is the hard part. And some positions work better than others in that regard. For example, the side-by-side is a great “holy-shit-I’m-full” position, because neither of you need to expend energy holding up your engorged bodies.
23) If sex is out of the question, there’s plenty of ways to pass the time while digestion does its thing. For most people, football has long been the stand-by holiday tradition. But football hasn’t always been Thanksgiving’s sport du jour. If it wasn’t for a few poor decisions in the late-1980s and the considerable leverage of the WWE’s Vince McMahon, you might be taking in some pile drivers and body slams with your turkey and stuffing instead of touchdowns and interceptions.
24) Cleaning up has long been an inevitable, if not encouraged, post-meal activity. But it’s not just the women’s job! Besides, some men actually love doing holiday chores.
25) As the night winds down, it can start to feel like guests are beginning to wear out their welcome. First of all, don’t be one of those people — know when to leave your hosts in peace. If you’re the one doing the hosting, however, there are tricks you can pull to send family and friends on their merry way. For starters, you can Jedi mind-trick them into thinking taking off is their idea:
But if by some chance they’re still firmly entrenched, we’ve got plenty of other ideas, too.
26) With everyone gone, it’s time to focus on your leftovers. Here’s how long they’re safe to eat.
27) Okay, you guys, you’re now ready to face your Thanksgiving fully prepared, and without fear. Just don’t hurt yourselves in the process and wind up in the hospital — especially because they’re already full up with holiday-related injuries.