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Thanksgiving vs. Pesach

When the Spouse and I were dating we realized that both our families had the "tradition" of serving virtually the same meal for the Seder as for Thanksgiving, the only major difference being that the Seder foods were KP. We both felt that that was somehow not right, maybe not showing enough respect for Pesach, if that's the right word. We decided that when we hosted our own family meals the two holidays would have very different menus. We've held to that and, although each meal has it's own invariable traditional foods, they have almost no overlap.

So my question is: Do many American Jewish families serve the same menu at both the Seder and Thanksgiving? Is this maybe a function of mid-20th century assimilative tendencies? Or are both of our families weird? (Well, yes, they are weird. But I meant in a food sense.)

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  1. My husband's family does this - their seder is essentially Thanksgiving dinner with some haggaddah attached. (We generally spend both of those holidays with his side, but every other holiday with my family.) I found it very startling my first year, and still don't like it. Having grown up with the purpose of the seder being sippur yetzias mitzrayim (telling the story of the Exodus), I find the Thanksgiving-dinner version pretty spiritually empty and meaningless.

    1. Right up my alley.

      Thanksgiving is our national food holiday. Since I live in New England I serve New England
      Thanksgiving food. Thanksgiving is the colonial update of an English harvest festival--bringing in the sheaves, etc.

      Passover also gets a New England treatment, but updated. I serve corn cakes/johnny cakes made with cornmeal. I serve New England seasonal foods, like a strawberry/rhubarb compote
      (it's a little ahead of the strawberry season, sorry). I serve roast chicken using schmaltz as substitute for butter. Herbs & garlic under the skin. Asparagus with lemon. If you just think spring vegetables this will work out.

      Most of my Jewish friends here serve Pesach meals that go back to Eastern Europe/Poland. Stuffed fish. I'm not from there so I pass on all that.

      I hope this helps, I consider this a delightful culinary challenge. I also get nervous about posting this as I try to get right with BOTH traditions.


      1 Reply
      1. re: sweetfern

        FWIW, most ashkenazim don't eat corn on Passover.

        Yes, the turkey is likely the same and yes, the typical Ashkenazi Thanksgiving will lean on familiar Ashkenazi "banquet" foods like kugel and tzimmes, so I can see the similarities, but I think Thanksgiving should be focused on hearty late-fall foods while Pesach should be highlighted by emerging spring foods.

      2. Our seder has no relation to thanksgiving. I usually serve beef on pesach and rosh hashana to respect the holiday and thus prepare the most elaborate/expensive item I can. I don't usually serve poultry on a jewish holiday since we eat so much turkey/chicken throughout the year I feel like its not special enough.

        1 Reply
        1. re: azna29

          Corn on Pesach--

          Yes, but some Ashkenazim do, and those are the ones I know! Jews are superb adapters. Corn was often considered "slave food" in the US, so I think it's legit. With it I serve maple syrup, VERY New England--and it's the real deal, not "maple flavored."


        2. it's the custom not to eat roasted meat or poultry at the Pesach seder, so the roasted turkey we eat for Thanksgiving would never be considered as a Seder meal.

          10 Replies
          1. re: berel

            Hi DeisCane,

            Now, why do you think (some) Askenazim don't eat corn at Pesach? Zea mays, indigenous to Central America.

            HI Berel,

            Many Jews think it is fine to eat roasted meat at Pesach, I just have to insert this! Customs vary!!


            1. re: sweetfern

              Corn is held to be kitniyos by every Ashkenazi rabbi I've ever heard of. Sefardim eat it on Pesach, but it's not exactly an obscure practice to avoid it on Passover. It's why fans of Coca-Cola made with sugar stock up on it around Passover, because it's made without corn syrup for the kosher-keeping market then.

              Berel is perhaps too sweeping in his language, but it is a very widely held custom not to eat roasted meat. I grew up with this one, and was also surprised to see a roast turkey at my husband's family's seder.

              1. re: GilaB

                So deep frying the turkey for Pesach seems the way to go...though peanut oil would be out. :-)

                1. re: DeisCane

                  Ahh the peanut issue rises again.<g> In my family peanuts are ok. In my husband's family (very Reform in practice) peanuts are a HUGE no no. It actually caused a small am0unt of confict, enough that we consulted our then rabbi when the conflcit arose.

              2. re: sweetfern

                Sweetfern, Orthodox Ashkenazic Jews do not eat corn or rice on Passover. We also do not eat roasted food. These relate to religious rulings that we have passed down. Customs do vary, but Orthodox Jews revere customs in a similar way to their reverence for Jewish Law. We believe there is a certain holiness to the customs and we pass them on to our children. Some of our customs relate to the foods we eat and it is not considered optional for us to pick and choose. This can be confusing as there are some foods we eat just because of tradition like the Gefilte fish for example. These types of traditional foods ARE indeed optional and one may pick and choose whether to eat them. For Orthodox Jews, our food customs (Ashkenazic or Sephardic) are not interchangeable in importance with our food traditions. Two very separate things.

                1. re: sweetfern

                  I've gone the deep-fried route and it's a huge pain for a one-shot deal (you end up with about 4-5 gallons of used oil). There are "oil-less" turkey fryers out there that are really just vertical propane roasters that (from what I've read) do nearly as good a job with less mess. Here's a review:


                  1. re: cappucino

                    I had never heard about the roasted meat! My husband always makes grilled lamb and I usually make roasted chicken for Passover. We have chopped liver, gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, potato kugel, apple kugel, etc.

                    Please tell me about the roasted meat issue. No one has ever mentioned this to me. We are conservative.

                    Oh, and to answer the OP. We have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with practically every pie known to man for dessert.

                    1. re: DaisyM

                      The Passover sacrifice was a lamb, which was roasted and then eaten as part of the seder. So as to make the point that we do not have a Temple and can't make the sacrifice, many people avoid grilled or roasted meat, which might be mistaken for the sacrifice itself. It's why brisket (a potted meat) is one of the best-known traditional seder foods; my mother makes brisket for one seder, and short ribs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce for the other. (These are fondly known as 'The Pesach Ribs' and are a once-a-year treat.)

                      As far as I know, this custom is widespread among Ashkenazi Jews but not among Sefardim.

                      1. re: GilaB

                        OK--a Thanksgiving request. Does anyone have a truly superb recipe for borscht?
                        I had a Russian student living in my home this summer and I miss him terribly and need to have him represented at the Thanksgiving table. He is a student at Moscow
                        University. What a guy! We grilled outside all summer and worked on perfecting
                        the martini.


                2. not in the least way does my families pesach meal resemble thanksgiving

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: thew

                    The two meals have never even been similar. However, though not a Pesach item, we have had kishka at Thanksgiving on occasion!

                  2. Not even close. Thanksgiving is turkey, regular bread stuffing and cornbread stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce (fresh cranberries are hard to get around Pesach), sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green beans, while Pesach has recently been chicken soup with matzah balls, meatballs, and a kugel or two. I find that we get so full with all the matzah, lettuce (marror), and wine necessary for the mitzvos of the night, that I make something that is easy to have a lot of or a little, and save the rest for other meals of the chag. After I eat all the shmurah matzah, I generally only have a bit of soup and three or four meatballs, leaving room for the additional matzah of the afikoman and the remaining wine. Also, our sedarim tend to go long, with the divrei torah and discussion, so there is a big time factor, if we want to have the afikoman by chatzot, which DH is pretty careful about. Because of that, I go very low-key on the food, while on Thanksgiving, food is pretty much what it's all about. Obviously, we always say brochos and are always grateful to Hashem for sustaining us, but with no specific mitzvos, the meal can be more drawn out and there can be more food.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: queenscook

                      Queencook, I have a hard time pacing the Seder, At the end I am logy and exhausted, wishing that
                      I had had one drink and a sandwich--Hillel is fine. Any creative solutions to this? Start mid-afternoon??


                      1. re: sweetfern

                        One of my Rabbis said the the shulchan orach should be chicken soup, salad and a light dessert.

                        1. re: sweetfern

                          I think that for many American Jews, the focus of the seder has shifted to the food, with huge, multi-course meals. I'm honestly not interested at that point, because even with my family's relatively quick seder, it's 10 pm by the time we eat. My family has always had soup, brisket/pesach ribs with two sides, and that's it, and I don't think that anybody feels that they're missing out on anything.

                          Orthodox people would not start early, because one can't have a seder until it's definitely the first day (or second day) of Passover, which isn't until after nightfall.

                          1. re: GilaB

                            My remark about mid-afternoon start shouldn't be taken seriously...it's just a wish for abbreviation in length of the seder. What kinds of soup do people from different backgrounds serve?

                            On kitniyot, a friend who is much more observant than I, also very learned, is passing this along:

                            "....in the 19th century, there was the first 'Kitniyot War,' which predated recent controversies in Israel. it occurred in Lithuania in 1868, due to a catastrophic rise in the price of wheat. Some of the rabbis permitted the use of beans, peas and millet, others refused. It became a source of controversy between the maskilim (Jewish proponents of the enlightment) and the rabbis who refused."


                            1. re: sweetfern

                              It's funny how this is like the third time you have brushed off a respectful response to something you stated very casually that brings up a host of issues. We have friends of all backgrounds and I just find your tone really strange. You keep telling others not to take your words so seriously, but your words directly contradict basic practices of a whole host of Jews. My friends who are not Orthodox do a lot of things their way. I have just never had any of them ask me to not take a remark about religious practice "seriously." We don't consider the world to revolve around us (although, I believe you think that we do), but why is it so hard for you to hear our side without being dismissive? I am wondering if you are for real or are just doing this to goad people on this board. If you are for real, then please stop telling us not to take things so seriously. What makes Kosher different than the other boards on here is the religious connection. We can't completely brush that off. You are, however, welcome to ignore us if you want. If our Jewish, but not Orthodox friends were to bring up the start time of the Seder with me, I would respond much like Gila B had. And they would definately not have continued with "don't take it seriously" and I just want to abbreviate the length of the Seder. It's really strange that you keep doing this. I have to wonder why. Same with the Kitnios quote. We kind of have a handle on it. We know the whys and wherefores. Again, you don't need to respond if you feel that all these things are completely unimportant.

                              1. re: cappucino

                                I believe you misunderstood my remark about not taking the start of the Seder seriously. I was not commenting on your practice or anyone else's practice, but my own wish for a Seder that was for a shorter Seder, not one that would leave myself and all guests exhausted. I was asking the board not to take my remark seriously--as reference to the fact that I do take the timing of the start of the Seder very seriously indeed. I think it is easy for misunderstandings about word meanings to arise in a discussion where the meanings of words are limited to the page and not to individual spoken expression. I am not commenting on other people's practice. I also think it is reasonable that there are differences in practice which may arise for historical reasons and which themselves uncover deeper meaning to ritual observance, hence my remark about Kitnios. We may think differently and hence express ourselves differently.


                                1. re: sweetfern

                                  I appreciate very much the response. It just came off quite differently to me every time I read each of your posts. As long as we all are respecting each other on here. That's the main thing. That and the food. Happy Thanksgiving.

                                  1. re: cappucino

                                    This is a relief! :) Thanks for your reply, Cappucino

                                    I, too, hope everyone has a marvelous Thanksgiving!!!


                      2. My in-laws (z"l) always did roast turkey w/ matzo stuffing for both. I think it was just easier for them to do only one menu. In my family, our seders were usually brisket, so they were two very different meals!

                        1. There's a column in Slate today where various women are sharing anecdotes about the passing-along of Thanksgiving traditions from mother to daughter. (here's the link - http://www.slate.com/id/2275715/


                          One contribution seemed appropriate to this thread:

                          The Thanksgiving of my youth bore some resemblance to the immigrant version Chang Rae Lee described in last week's New Yorker, only instead of Koreans in New Rochelle, it involved Israelis in Queens. My mother had no idea how to cook a turkey. In fact, she was faintly repulsed by the idea; it struck her as the equivalent of cooking a large dog or a horse. Instead she found a biggish chicken to roast and made some brisket just in case. Then she'd put it on the table and … what? We would just stare at each other, because in Jewish holidays there are rituals—you light candles, eat challah, say certain prayers. But in this case we had no idea what to do or say, and yet we felt if we did not somehow sit around the table and try something, they would revoke our green cards and ship us back home. One year out of sheer confusion and boredom, we brought out the dreidels.

                          In the typical fashion of immigrant child, I waited a few years and then took over. Not with the cooking—a large turkey was still beyond my 9-year-old self. But with the rituals. I dutifully read from my grade-school textbooks the story of the pilgrims and Indians, as they were then called. I made everyone at the table try to pronounce the word Mayflower in a way that sounded more like how my teacher said it. This was something like telling the story of Moses at Passover—it involves a hero, some suffering, and the founding of the nation. It still felt a little strange and suspiciously Christian to us, but at least we had something to do every year.

                          —Hanna Rosin

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: craigcep

                            I'm a little surprised that cooking turkey is "alien" to Israelis. Israel is the largest per capita consumer of turkey in the world. Or do Israelis not cook whole turkeys, only turkey parts? I don't know, but I sure ate a lot of turkey in Israel.

                            1. re: rockycat

                              I'm surprised, too, but Rosin is about forty, so her parents had left Israel by the early seventies. Did Israelis eat a lot of turkey back then?

                              1. re: rockycat

                                I think, in fact, that Israelis do NOT typically cook whole turkeys. Some relatives made aliyah two and a half years ago, and have, therefore, spent two Thanksgivings there now. They told me that the first year, it was impossible to find a whole turkey to roast, though by last year, in their overly Americanized community, finally some were available. Haven't heard the 2010 turkey report yet!

                                1. re: rockycat

                                  i've seen many turkey legs eaten in israel. never a whole bird