Thanksgiving Day, 1990: a 6-year-old girl woke up with an itch. The 6-year-old girl itched that itch beside her belly button. The 6-year-old girl soon discovered that itch wasn’t just any itch—it was chickenpox, compliments of her first-grade friends. And thus, a decade of the 90s Thanksgivings that dotted my childhood began.
And they were the BEST.
Remember Turkey Day in the 90s? Even if you weren’t quarantined with a highly contagious virus (read: all the TV and Jell-O I could have ever wanted), that fourth Thursday in November was one of the best days of the year. It was simple, it was fun, and it was the stuff our memories are made of.
Because for as great as it is to stuff your grown-up face with turkey and all the trimmings now, in the 90s, Thanksgiving was just better.
1. We didn’t skip it.
I know, I know, putting up Christmas decorations early is good for your health, it’s festive, it’s your prerogative, blah blah blah. But you have to admit, in the 90s, we didn’t skip straight from Halloween to Christmas with quite the ferocity we do today. Is it the influence of online retailers? Maybe. Is it just that hindsight is most often viewed through suspiciously rose-colored glasses? Probably. But I don’t remember anyone heading out to shop at Target at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day in the 90s either, so I stand by my recollection.
2. We saw family we hadn’t seen in months.
Before you say, “Duh, we still do this,” consider this: technology in the 90s wasn’t what it is now. We didn’t have iPhones or FaceTime or even webcams unless you owned a fancy computer and had something better than AOL. So we didn’t SEE our relatives who lived a state or two or 20 away unless it was, say, Thanksgiving. My grandparents used to roll up in their motorhome and park it in front of the yard, and I still remember how exciting it was to bound up those metal steps to greet them. There’s a reason they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all.
3. Two words: TV specials.
Remember checking in with Jill and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor and the rest of the fam (hello, JTT!) on Thanksgiving? Of course you do because, in the 90s, holiday specials and marathons of your favorite shows were the best. Home Improvement . . . Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman . . . Touched By An Angel . . . Boy Meets World. I know we binge on shows nowadays on streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, but there was something wonderful about parking yourself in front of the TV to watch episode after episode—commercials included—on a holiday. My dad and I used to watch the X-Files marathon on Thanksgiving, and I still associate that show with those days. I also still kind of miss Mulder and Scully.
4. Mom broke out the fancy dishes.
We had a cabinet in the corner of the dining room I used to love opening on holidays. We’d pull out the fine china and crystal, polish the silver with the tub of Wright’s silver cream, and set the fancy table for the meal. My brothers and I would feel pretty grown-up drinking grape juice out of wine goblets, and it’s around the Thanksgiving table we learned tracing water around their delicate rims produced a satisfying whistle. Dining around a decked-out table was a special event, and it was always worth the wait.
5. The FOOD.
Thanksgiving is still all about the food, of course, but back then? It was all about the food without a side of social media-fueled guilt. Plenty of people drank Slim-Fast and did Weight Watchers, but the 90s were mostly free of the obsessive diet fads that seem to be everywhere today. No one cared if mashed potatoes weren’t on the Keto diet—you plopped a healthy spoonful onto your plate and slathered it with butter like your life depended on it. There was green bean casserole, lefse with cinnamon and sugar, corn with butter and salt, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar, stuffing, Mom’s homemade pan gravy, dinner rolls, that deliciously weird looks-like-the-can jellied cranberries, pumpkin pie . . . we ate it all, and we ate it all without dissecting it or running to Pinterest for post-Thanksgiving cleanse plans.
6. None of it was my responsibility.
The best thing about Thanksgiving in the 90s is simple: I was a kid, and life was less complicated then. I didn’t have to know what size turkey to buy, or figure out how many days in advance of that Thursday I needed to start it thawing, or deep clean my house before the in-laws showed up. I just lived in the best parts of it all, soaking up the moments that would become these fond memories once I got to the here and now. Childhood is so unavoidably short, and today I can see—and appreciate—just how much my parents did to make mine so happy and full, Thanksgivings included.
It’s why even though I look back on Thanksgiving in the 90s with a heart full of nostalgia, that heart is full of appreciation, too, for what it is now. I have a family of my own, kids who are zooming through their own childhoods, and the honor of creating these moments all over again for the next generation.
It makes the 6-year-old girl still inside this 30-something woman so incredibly thankful.
(And, gratefully, chickenpox-free.)