Thanksgiving has changed, and, if anything, it seems to have extended the holiday. It’s become known as a “season of eating” rather than one meal–and along with it comes time spent with a variety of different “friend groups.” Our EVP of Insights, Locke Hilderbrand, put this list together of things you might be experiencing this holiday.
- Finding Time To Celebrate
Thanksgiving is a holiday that is evolving to fit the less traditional behaviors of today. No longer is Thanksgiving about the immediate family gathering around a table to share a meal—it’s become both bigger and smaller than that. For years, we’ve seen work and shopping creep into the holiday, with people taking advantage of overtime pay to work on Thanksgiving, and others taking advantage of early sales. While there is now some push back to the holiday creep, the meal continues to shrink in importance and the day becomes something scheduled with various activities centered around family and friends. Thanksgiving is now a meal, a shopping experience, an entertainment experience, and, for many, a workday. This is making people reprioritize what Thanksgiving means to them and how they celebrate.
- What “Family” Is Today
The concept of “family” is evolving, as we see more people picking and choosing how they want to define their family—and whom they choose often goes way beyond any legal relationship. Family is becoming who you want to be around—not just those to whom you are obligated. As this happens, the idea of occasions is splitting and being divided up among a person’s various “families” including those with whom they work, their friends, their relatives, and their immediate family. Each of them may have their own take on an occasion; therefore, instead of living all these priorities at once, people are hosting mini holidays to more fully enjoy the plans made by each different family group.
- Guaranteed Good Experiences
Not everyone wants to invest half a day in the kitchen for a family experience, and those people are looking for acceptable outlets that will do the grunt work of Thanksgiving for them without sacrificing the chance to make a memory. As more brands and services enable consumers to celebrate holidays at restaurants, theme parks, and the like, they’re both changing the expectations of the holiday and helping create new traditions. Those traditions may or may not involve cooking and eating a big meal. Even when there is an at-home meal, the home cooks are taking advantage of the fact that more grocerants and grocery stores offer all-in-one holiday prep-shops, from meal and appetizer cooking and creation, to custom dessert orders and personalized food gifts. Away from home, theme parks are continuing to push holiday offerings and celebration services that both re-create traditional holiday events and create new ones that are theme park-centric. Effort and cost are competing with the overall idea of the experience in the consumer’s eyes.
- Our Evolving View of Flavor & Health
Food culture has become engrained in our pop culture, as has the push for a healthier lifestyle. Fusion flavors and a healthier approach to menu items and cooking is also impacting holidays, as we look at our traditional holiday favorites and ask if those items are healthy—and if they really taste as good as our childhood memories or media influences lead us to believe. While the entrée-of-choice may never move away from turkey, the execution of the various meal components is changing. Ethnic spices and unique cooking formats are shaping the traditionally oven-browned bird. Side dishes are taking the biggest hit, both in terms of smaller portions, as well as healthier and trendier options. That green bean casserole may be swapped out for a cranberry, shallots and quinoa salad, and white potatoes and rolls may be removed from the table completely, for example. In the past, even health-oriented people made a conscious decision to indulge; today, they are more likely to stick to the plan because they feel healthier and like how that feels. Right now we have the ability to be health-conscious with less pressure from others, because the nation as a whole is more accepting of people’s diet choices. The combination of health, awareness of trends, and acceptance of choice is making us rethink what goes on the table.
- New Traditions
One of the biggest impact points is how traditions are being rewritten to fill both niche needs and new desires as we progress as a society. The economy, our health, our pop culture, and our social structure are all having an impact on American traditions. Baby Boomers are decluttering their lives and are shifting their focus to be less about maintaining how things always have been; instead, they are centered on making and maintaining connections. Members of Generation X are all about adapting bits and pieces of the traditions they grew up with and mashing them up with things that fit their current needs, without clinging to anything that does not give them joy. Millennials find themselves a little nostalgic for family tradition, but also realistic that a lot of that is media-generated and not actually what they lived out in real life. That makes them more excited about the possibilities of a blank slate that let’s them create and start new traditions that work for them and show their personality. These generational patterns are all impacting what our perspective of a holiday is, and what our perception of what it was supposed to be.
- A Focus On Connecting
At the core, occasions are still about connecting; it’s everything else that is changing. Who we get together with, who we consider family, what we’re eating, where we’re getting together, all of these are in flux and evolving, but the people are still the heart of it. Where once Thanksgiving was centered around the meal and getting the family together for that as an event, now the focus is on simply getting the family—however you define that term—together, and figuring it out from there.
- The New Ethnicity
There is actually a new type of ethnicity in America, as we begin to seek out and identify with a culture that works for us. It may not be a culture from our own past; it is just as likely to be one that we have adopted. We are more comfortable integrating those various influences into our daily lives, including our meals. What we’re likely to see is pieces of various cultures fitting into the traditional Thanksgiving meal in unexpected ways—like a Szechuan green bean casserole, or mashed potatoes made with Manchego cheese.
The key point is that as American culture evolves, the core of each American holiday is becoming focused on the people over the celebration itself. Holidays are now an outlet in which to connect, regardless of what cultural traditions may or may not be present. This allows for new holiday events and occasions to be created, as more families and friends intertwine their traditions and customs to create new ones that celebrate personal tradition and personal heritage.
For a little fun at your Kids’ Table this year, see our story at The Food Channel.