Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I feel guilty about this whenever I say it. On a larger scale, Thanksgiving tries to make a history that includes acts of genocide cute. Its narratives comes from the same willfully ignorant conception of America that painted Columbus as a hero, and its origin story continues to support a false colonialist narrative of white benevolence. But even considered at a remove from its political origins, as holiday merely about abundance and gratitude, Thanksgiving, like all holidays that center on family, is fraught with expectation and difficulty. No matter how much family you have, no matter how well-preserved and practiced one’s family traditions are, holidays are set up so that they feel like you never have enough family and that your traditions are never good enough.
The room is never warm and inviting enough, the light is never the correct color and the table is not set beautifully enough. Someone else, somewhere else, is actually having Thanksgiving (or Christmas, or New Year’s, this applies to all the big holidays), and one’s own version of it is a weak imposter, full of holes leaking the proof of one’s true loneliness. Though in concept it emphasizes togetherness, those practicing it feel fundamentally left out in the cold—these imagined spaces of sharing, of family, of closeness, create impossible expectations, and shine light on any moment when one fails to reach them. The holiday is itself, like all holidays, inherently difficult. The real holiday, the actual heart of what’s good about Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving: it’s the day after Thanksgiving
The best part of Thanksgiving doesn’t take place in the long afternoon around a formal dinner table, but in the late morning when no one else in the house is awake, in front of an open refrigerator door. The day after Thanksgiving is Leftovers Day. It is the best day, and it is a breakfast holiday. Everything is breakfast the day after Thanksgiving because the whole day is breakfast. Meals are normally delineated by the pauses between them, and used as a small way to measure the ongoing on time throughout a single day, meted out against work schedules. Breakfast starts in the morning and at some point, presumably, ends. Lunch follows because breakfast ended. Leftovers Day, the Day after Thanksgiving, is a breakfast holiday because the day after Thanksgiving is one long breakfast, one glorious, self-indulgent holiday defiant of the clock and the calendar, ceaselessly eating from one end of daylight to the other, carrying breakfast all the way into the dark.
Leftovers Day is an unofficial and pure holiday, a holiday answerable to no one but yourself and your understanding what is good, a holiday celebrating your most secret and human and announced relationship to food, and Leftovers Day is a breakfast holiday. On most days you’re not supposed to make a giant sandwich straight out of the fridge while standing up and leaving the fridge door open, you’re not supposed to eat pie with whipped cream at nine in the morning, but on Leftovers Day these behaviors assumed and expected and nobody bothers you. It’s a nothing day. There are no technical holiday events, no table to set and no parade on TV. Leftovers Day is a silence, a blank, a place in the center of the ocean where everything is becalmed. It’s a day that celebrates the permission to eat and do nothing.
The point of a turkey isn’t the part when a bunch of people sit around a giant dome of a bird carcass and politely carve slices onto plates. The point of a turkey is how, one day later, those slices translate into a sandwich that’s so large and overstuffed as to be essentially structurally unsound, a sandwich—or, really, a series of sandwiches all day long because let’s be honest with ourselves—straining the very definition of sandwich. Thanksgiving side dishes are fine on their own, but all are better haphazardly reheated at 10 a.m., added to a sandwich or eaten straight of the bowl or serving dish, while standing up in a kitchen. On Leftovers Day, over cold pie, one can have the kind of conversations one only has standing up in a kitchen, which are the opposite of the kind of obligated, strained conversation so often generated around a Thanksgiving Day table.
Any conversations that quietly change something between family members are far more likely to take place on this day, between bites of large messy slices of pie, eaten straight of the pie plate, maybe not even cut into slices, just a fork stuck into the whole rapidly disappearing remainder of pie. The real celebration of abundance as it’s meant to indicate gratitude is the outrageous Frankensteining together of an unfeasible sandwich that includes no fewer than four sides turned into unlikely condiments. It’s standing at the fridge and peering in at the vastness of what remains until someone joins you and peers in too and you sit with forks in reheated bowls as though all food were a late-night pint of ice-cream, picking out the bits of sausage in the stuffing and haphazardly adding more butter to mashed potatoes, food removed entirely from social obligation. Food on the day after Thanksgiving stops being a performance or an expectation and becomes itself again, messy and indulgent, full of rich ingredients rarely eaten on other days, the whole point of the holiday emerging clear out of the ideas around it.