Community residents offer insight into what Thanksgiving means to them

Shawn Nowlin

Since the 1600s, people have been celebrating Thanksgiving in America.

This week, many Virginians will endure traffic jams and flight delays to spend time with friends and family members. Some locals, like Roanoke County resident Ciani Wingfield, insists that every dish be either homemade or organic. Others like Salem native John Childress don’t mind having food catered to the house. The average Thanksgiving dinner costs approximately $65, according to a recent survey conducted by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

“Food is such a central part of the holiday season. But more than 860,000 Virginians are food-insecure, which means that at some point during the year they struggle to put enough nutritious food on the table for their families,” said Eddie Oliver, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks. “I encourage people to think of the less fortunate during the holidays. Not everyone gets to enjoy a warm meal with family and friends.”

Dozens of residents were asked what Thanksgiving means to them. This is how they responded.


“My favorite holiday dish is mashed potatoes with gravy. Nothing beats that!! I grew up with real mashed potatoes, not instant or anything like that. Because it’s fun, I don’t mind cooking. I don’t like cranberry sauce. I’m not a fan of sweet potato casserole either. I think it’s the marshmallows. My mother always made giblet gravy. And tiny green peas. I am thankful for good health and the opportunity to spend quality time with family”


  • John B.



“Any ‘real’ cooking you do, in my opinion, takes time. The more time spent, the more love goes in. It’s about the prep work. Greens are a favorite dish of mine. I’m talking about the ones with the fatback and neck bones in the pot. I know this is going to sound blasphemous, but for me turkey is my least favorite dish. Some people’s turkey taste like baked chicken which is just flat-out wrong. Some folks make a turkey and it is dry. In my family, the men like to talk and watch football. We used to all gather at my grandmother’s house and partook in the feast. Traditions don’t last as long as our memories do. We all have gotten older but some things never change. Thanksgiving is being thankful to see a new year on its way. To be surrounded by love whether it be from family, friends or complete strangers. Just being in a community of fellowship. This time of the year can be so lonely. Any time spent spreading love to others is a good way to celebrate the holiday”


  • Valarie H.



“Food-wise, I love turkey dressing, twice-baked notators and pumpkin pie. I really don’t like cranberry jelly. Fortunately, my wife cooks, but I can cook turkey as long as it has a button that pops up and I can bake”


  • Carey H.



“I love my mother’s homemade mac n cheese along with her greens. I don’t cook. I just show up to eat. My mom and sister make it look so easy. Our family tradition is to gather and fellowship. I simply can’t deal with the taste or smell of chitterlings. A good Thanksgiving is the family seamlessly enjoying each other’s company and having a great laugh”


  • J. B.



“Generally, cooking is a piece of cake, as long as you prepare early and have everything on hand. I’m not very big on green bean casserole. I think that you should mess up green beans by adding other stuff to them, like old seasoned meat. My favorite dishes are turkey, mac and cheese, collard greens, gravy, dressing and cranberry sauce. While everyone is at the table after the food is blessed, each family member says what they are thankful for. A good thanksgiving has to include a good football game on the TV”

  • Richard G.


“Mac n cheese is not only delicious; it is a necessity for Thanksgiving. Without it, the holiday is just not the same. Turkey can go too”


  • Xavier P.



“Cooking is a little complicated, but I’ve gotten in the habit of prepping beforehand rather than doing everything the day of. Cranberry sauce and stuffing are the absolute worst. I think it’s because I’ve never had either homemade. My favorite dishes are greens with smoked turkey and baked macaroni and cheese and this sweet potato casserole I discovered on food network. I don’t have any family traditions other than making sure we’re all together to spend time. A good thanksgiving ultimately is with my loved ones in the same room sharing laughter and making memories”


  • Liz W.



“Turkey with dressing and gravy, potato salad, mac n cheese, greens and cabbage along with rolls are what I look forward to every year. Because my dad does all of the cooking, I don’t really have to do anything but show up. I usually bring whatever is asked of me. It’s all about family, laughter and love”


  • Charmaine B.



“Some of my favorite dishes are: 1) Stuffing because there are so many variations that keep it from being same ole, same ole, 2) Vegetables because of the color/flavor/texture counterpoint the make in contrast to the turkey and 3) the ubiquitous green bean casserole, yams with mini marshmallows, mac-n-cheese, mashed potatoes and a can of cranberry sauce. I like to make the stuffing with oysters and bacon, or sausage and dried apricots. Even cornbread instead of white bread gets the job done. Cooking takes a ton of planning and prepping, especially if you are making a lot of sides. It’s hard to get the timing down perfectly so that everything gets to the table piping hot at the same time. My least favorite food is lima beans because I don’t like the texture of the insides. A good thanksgiving is a table full of people that all actively wish to be there together and not doing so out of a feeling of obligation”


  • Laura D.


“We usually kick things off on Wednesday evening. I love steak and potatoes as well as mac n cheese. After Thanksgiving, we always play spades and end up watching a good football game. It’s all about the three F’s: family, friends and football”


  • Darreous D.



“My favorite dishes are lasagna, my mother’s dressing and spaghetti. I would say that liver is my least favorite. Getting together for the holidays with family is always special. At the end of the day, life is a collection of memories. I look forward to making some new memories this year with family and friends”


  • Renita G.



“I’m not really a huge turkey fan. I like smoked salmon, chicken wings, mac and cheese, kale and Parmesan mashed potatoes. I only make one dish which is turkey lasagna because it’s pretty simple. In my opinion, stuffing is overrated. Before we eat, my family goes around the table and say what we are all thankful for”


  • Layden W.



“My favorite dishes are ham as well as mac and cheese because of the saltiness of the ham and the texture and flavor of the cheese. Our family tradition usually is getting together and saying what we are thankful for before eating. I’m not a fan of cranberry sauce because of the bitter taste. I wouldn’t say that I am a chef, but I can definitely hold my own in the kitchen”


  • Jaland R.



“Some of my favorite dishes are mac and cheese and sweet potato casserole. The actual cooking of the food is a piece of cake. It’s important for me to invite people that may not have the luxury of a close-knit family. Thanksgiving, in my opinion, is about sharing ourselves with others”


  • Darlene L.



“I love having a variety of food for Thanksgiving. I really enjoy homemade cranberry relish or cranberry chutney. It compliments turkey that I also love. Unfortunately, I am gluten intolerant so I can’t have the regular family-style stuffing or rolls. Hooray for Corbins Confections for having gluten-free products like stuffing and rolls. There are no specific family traditions other than family being together or in contact, and being thankful for all the blessings God has bestowed upon us. An ideal Thanksgiving looks like a loving family with happy bellies and full hearts”


  • Mary G.



“Some of my favorite dishes are the traditional ones. Turkey, ham, stuffing, mac-n-cheese, sweet potatoes and green beans. For some reason, I don’t like to veer off from the traditional foods. I love to cook. That’s where the heart of the meal comes from. I don’t eat potato salad, chittlins’ or devil eggs. Our family tradition is just to be together for the whole weekend”


  • Catherine L.



“For me and my wife, this is our 33rd Thanksgiving together. The must-have side dishes are dressing (cooked outside the turkey), corn pudding, and macaroni and cheese. My wife is a most-excellent cook. The dressing and corn pudding are generally not prepared except for holidays. This makes these two dishes particularly special. Her macaroni and cheese is fantastic.

Preparing the meal is part of the enjoyment of the holiday. It is not simply a means to an end. There are pieces of the preparation that we have all had a hand in, with my wife serving as the Incident Commander. Some things are prepped ahead of time. That helps with the day-of activities. Generally, we are also very flexible in terms of the timing that the meal is served. That eases the pressure of it all too.

For me personally, I don’t like pumpkin pie at all. I posted a question to Facebook recently asking what is a dish that everyone seems to like at Thanksgiving, but that you cannot stand. The most common response was cranberry sauce – particularly from the can. My wife doesn’t care for green bean casserole, but she fixes it every year because several of us enjoy it.

As a kid, I used to go to work with my father on Thanksgiving morning. He supervised a chain of convenience stores. He used travel to his stores in the early morning as encouragement to those who had to work in the stores. He was demonstrating leadership to me through his action. As I got older, we used to play football every Thanksgiving morning. In 1991, I was 25 years old. I broke a bone in my foot. There was a concern it was my ankle. I insisted my wife take me to my mother’s house to get a plate of Thanksgiving dinner before taking me to the hospital. I sat in the parking lot of the Emergency Department, much to my wife’s chagrin, eating that dinner before going inside for examination. It is rare that I get together with extended family over the holiday. I genuinely miss this as I am from a big family. One of my younger brothers who lives in Northern Virginia hosts dinner each year. We cherish the time our daughters are able to spend with us.

Thanksgiving 2019 is special as our first grandchild arrived on November 1. We are hosting dinner for the other two daughters and the family of our daughter’s husband.

From a spiritual standpoint, we are called to always be thankful in all situations. This holiday and the lead-up to it serves as a reminder of the abundance that God provides to our family. We try to pour into the lives of other people. The blessings that God pours into our lives are not meant exclusively for us, but for us to use to minister to others”


  • John C.



“I love all kinds of foods, but I definitely must have cranberry sauce with my turkey. Cooking is fine, it’s remembering to pull the turkey out of the freezer so you don’t have to quick thaw it. The stuffing that’s baked inside the bird is by far my least favorite dish. Gross! When I was a kid, two of my family members would grab the wishbone, make a wish and break it. Whoever was left with the bigger piece…their wish would come true. A nice Thanksgiving consists of being with family and friends, eating and having a good time and making sure there are plenty of leftovers. It’s always nice with the women in our lives are tolerant of us watching football”


  • Mike B.



“My favorite dishes are mac and cheese and broccoli casserole. I like them because they are so flavorful and savory. They have some similar ingredients, but taste so drastically different. My least favorite item is turkey because I strictly like white meat. Dark meat is a waste of food for me. Delicious aromas coming from the kitchen and being surrounded with family laughing and enjoying each other’s company makes for a great Thanksgiving.


  • Janea G.



“From my perspective, the food preparation process is the best part. It shouldn’t be such a hassle when cooking the meals. My favorite dishes are herb mashed potatoes, cabbage soup and roasted turkey. Each of those items bring warmth to my heart and nostalgia. They are just delicious”


  • Cindy C.



“Cranberry sauce is disgusting. It tastes so bad. On Thanksgiving, we all meet at my aunt’s house. We usually have a light breakfast before we the food eating process commences. Family, fellowship, friendship, relaxation and making memories with loved ones. That is what makes a good Thanksgiving in my opinion”


  • Jeff W.


“The McNamara house has sort of been the cornerstone for Thanksgiving gatherings for immediate and extended family for over 30 years. I actually make the turkey and stuffing every year and my wife makes every side imaginable to go with it. Our daughter and son usually pitch in. After the Macy’s Parade, we usually watch a football game and have a lot of family fellowship”


  • Joe M.



“I love stuffing, dressing, candied yams and baked macaroni and cheese. I’ve never cooked the meal. I’ve only assisted. Cooking the whole meal is a lot of work. However, because of my great aunt, who passed away a few years ago, I learned what a labor of love truly means. My least favorite dish is cranberry sauce. I’ve just never been a fan. It’s not terrible, just not something that I typically eat. We tend to take a bunch of pictures because it’s usually one of the few times of year that we get together as a family”


  • Kenya M.



“I love making our family turkey because everyone enjoys it. I’ve been told that I also make the best dressing in the world. Cooking the necessary things for Thanksgiving is easy because it’s made out of love. I am not a fan of pumpkin pie. I just don’t like the taste. A good Thanksgiving looks like this: great family and friends gathered, a crisp breeze in the air and fellowship which includes much laughter, good food and plenty of hugs”


  • Lisa R.



“In a nutshell, my favorite dishes are everything. Turkey, ham, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, greens, sweet potato pie. You name it”


  • Jojo S.



“Some of my favorite dishes are my sweet potato casserole which is really more of a dessert. Also, my sister-in-law Carolyn makes incredible pecan pies with ‘hard sauce’ to put on top. Our family members all pitch in to help with the meal so it’s not overwhelming. I’m not a picky eater, but I have never been very fond of cranberry sauce. For several years, my family did the Drum-Stick Dash before preparing for the big meal. I have so much to be thankful for! I am truly blessed with wonderful friends and family. I try to do something for others that may need help like the Rescue Mission or the Ronald McDonald House”


  • Lisa B.



“We usually always hold hands and pray on Thanksgiving. My favorite dish is my grandmother’s stuffing because it’s delicious and eating it brings up good memories. Cranberry sauce is my least favorite. The texture has always been weird to me”


  • Jamonda N.




I like ham, sweet potatoes souffle, mac and cheese, collard greens and pumpkin pie. The blend of the salt in sugar and the fullness appeals to my appetite. I don’t cook that well so preparing Thanksgiving dinner would be a chore for me. I’m not a fan of stuffing or cranberry sauce. I hate the taste. A good Thanksgiving consists of family and friends, sharing stories, playing cards, talking trash and everyone cracking jokes”


Jason B.

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