I think part of the accretion of dishes is that you grow to love certain food -- so, for example, we'll have two kinds of stuffing today -- cornbread-sausage-chipotle and a classic herb-mushroom. I didn't want to give either one up, because I love them both, and Jed likes mushrooms better, and Kevin doesn't like mushrooms at all, so two stuffings. Which, y'know, is kind of silly with only six adults and four kids. Especially when you add in sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce (another starch), lots of nuts, apple pie, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin bread. Oh, there's a few vegetables in there -- one green salad, green beans, and brussel sprouts. And the turkey for protein. But still.
I think some of it must be that these gatherings were traditionally huge -- if you had 6-12 kids, and then aunts and uncles and the like, then it made a lot more sense to have a full dozen dishes. And, of course, that would be expensive, so filling out the meal with lots of inexpensive starches makes sense. Stuffing seems like it's essentially evolved out of leftovers -- take all the leftover edges and crusts of bread that you've been saving for the past week, and mix that in with whatever other leftover stuff you have in the root cellar that's not going to make it through the winter. :-)
Now, though, I can look at our Thanksgiving meal plan and say this is totally ridiculous. You could cut the number of dishes in half and still have more than you'd need for a normal dinner party. But oh well -- it's not about normal, is it? It's about memory through food, and about a rare celebration of excess (perhaps especially valued in difficult economic times), and perhaps most of all, labors of love. And if there's too much food by far at the table tonight -- well, that means two or three days of leftovers, which sounds pretty good to me. I plan to spend tomorrow sleeping.
Now I'm off to scrub the greasy hood of my stove, because a sparkling clean house on a special day -- that's a sign of love too. :-)
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!