The great Thanksgiving divide

To dress or to stuff.

November 24, 2022 6:00 am
(Photo:Getty Images)

(Photo:Getty Images)

Of all holidays, Thanksgiving is arguably the least emotionally fraught. There are no gifts to be purchased and wrapped, no Kay Jewelry commercials to make us feel like losers if we’ve neither bought nor received diamond jewelry for the occasion and no holiday parties about which we need to fret over what to wear.

But nonetheless, we can always count on deep controversy to arise at the Thanksgiving dinner table. 

It’s not politics. 

The anniversary of two major Civil War battles approaches — Franklin on November 30; Nashville on December 15-16 — but we aren’t litigating the War Between the States. 

I’m talking about the great dressing-stuffing divide. 

The reasonable among us know that the delectable cornbread-based side dish accompanying the traditional Thanksgiving turkey is called ‘dressing’ — only unless it is actually placed inside the cavity of the turkey, baked and removed when the turkey is served. If the mixture is placed into a casserole dish and baked separately, it’s dressing. Not stuffing. 

Yet even those whom we respect and view as reasonable people disagree. My colleague, Senior Reporter Anita Wadhwani, took issue with my characterization of ‘dressing.’

I had just finished telling Wadhwani about a family dilemma: My husband and I are celebrating Thanksgiving with one of his brothers, who recently moved with his family from Chicago to Tennessee. I relayed to Wadhwani the trepidation with which I broached the dressing/stuffing topic to my sister-in-law. 

Gently, I questioned my sister-in-law Kate on how she prepares her dressing. My reasoning was that it’s best to get such controversial topics out of the way early to find out if she puts weird things like fruit in her dressing: Were that the case, we would obviously need to prepare two types of dressing because fruit and nuts is unacceptable in classic Southern dressing, which calls for little other than sauteed onion and celery, turkey broth, and a good dosage of McCormick’s poultry seasoning and sage. 

My girl Kate responded with a statement that made me simultaneously feel relief and horror: “Oh, I don’t care,” she said. “I usually make Pepperidge Farm stuffing and add some Stovetop (Stuffing.)” 

At least there will be no fighting over who makes the dressing but the horror! Not only did she refer to it as ‘stuffing’ but makes it from a box!

Wadhwani failed to reassure me when I tried to share my concerns. 

“It’s stuffing,” she said in her matter of fact way. “To call it anything else is ridiculous.”

I don’t know if there’s any help for Wadhwani — a native of Wisconsin, she’s lived in Tennessee for 20 years and still hasn’t seen the dressing light — but I feel sure with a bit of time and loving intervention, I can bring my Iowa-born sister-in-law around. Might even teach her to make her own cornbread. 

This may be the lesson for us as we prepare to sit around the family table with kin, some of whom think as we do and some with whom we will never agree but love anyway. 

For a day at least, let not only the little things go, but even the big things. Life has been pretty tough the last few years and two years ago, many of us weren’t even seeing our family as we were wary of COVID-19. This year, we can be together. We can appreciate our family, even if they put fruit and nuts in their dressing or even if they make it from a box. 

Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy your dressing, or your stuffing. Whatever you call it, it’s likely to be tasty.

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.