When I was younger Thanksgiving was an almost predictable thing. Every year was almost identical to the point that they all sort of run together. I am fairly certain any member of my family could tell you almost to the minute what was going to happen on Thanksgiving day.
Dinner was always the same thing. We always had turkey and stuffing, though the stuffing if I recall wasn't cooked in the turkey. There were mashed potatoes and turkey gravy and frozen corn and green beans. There were dinner rolls and jellied cranberry sauce in the shape of a can. There was always a relish tray with green onions and whole black olives and deviled eggs that inevitably were all eaten before they were served. There was also fruit salad that no one ever actually ate.
I am certain if you suggested to my grandmother that we change the menu even slightly that her head would have exploded. She was very big on traditions which is not a problem in the least. Traditions are important and in our house they were sacred.
Growing up there were only a couple of times that I ate Thanksgiving dinner away from home and each time I was completely freaked out by how different dinner was. I can recall eating dinner with my step family and how I was fairly certain they had no idea what a proper thanksgiving meal was. They had cooked the turkey the day before and served it cold, they served sweet rice instead of potatoes, there was ambrosia salad instead of fruit salad. I was incredibly uncomfortable the entire meal.
When I got out on my own and I was suddenly free of the requirement of tradition I was torn on what to do. I remember the first few years when I was planning my Thanksgiving with friends I found it hard to buck tradition. It hurt my brain to think I was voluntarily making a non traditional dinner.
Now, a decade and a half later, I couldn't tell you what I consider a proper Thanksgiving meal other than it is served among loved ones. I have made chicken, cornish hens, turkey, ham, pork roast, and prime rib for the main portion of the meal. These days we are more likely to serve collard greens than green beans. If someone offers to bring something new I actually find it exciting and not a painful thought.
In the end this day is about being thankful for what you have no matter what it is. Whatever I am eating, I am happy for it, and I am going to enjoy it. It doesn't have to be a specific food made in a specific way. All it really has to be is something that was prepared with consideration and love and served amongst people that warm my heart.