I don't think it really matters what you eat on Thanksgiving, as long as it's something different from what you eat the rest of the year.

I don't think it really matters what you eat on Thanksgiving, as long as it's something different from what you eat the rest of the year.

Also, it should involve elaborate rituals. Kids love rituals. I'm guessing it's because rituals are signs of security and predictability. Little people in a big world need to know they can depend on something.

For a long time, I had a Sunday morning pancake ritual when the kids were young. I don't know how it got started, but making pancakes on the weekend is one of those dad things to do. I could tell it was a ritual because the pancake specifications were very precise: half cornmeal, half flour. No syrup. (We first became parents during the sugar scare of the early 1980s. Self-appointed experts said sugar would turn kids hyperactive or something. So we avoided sugar, but they still looked pretty hyperactive to me.) I learned never to run low on cornmeal because the kids could tell if I varied the recipe even slightly and would become outraged. You don't mess with tradition.

Generally, the bigger the occasion, the more elaborate the food ritual should be. Otherwise, how are you going to convey the seriousness of the event? That's really what turkey is all about. A whole turkey is just a lot of bother, and even cooked well, it's lucky to be half as tasty as the average chicken. That's why they don't serve Turkey McNuggets at McDonald's. Kids know what tastes good.

But people love the complexity of roasting a turkey. Hence, all the stories that flood the media every November: How to thaw a turkey, how to foil-wrap a turkey, how to deep-fry a turkey, what to do with all the leftovers when people remember they actually don't like turkey. It's a very ritualistic meat.

I picked up on this early in childhood when I realized adults were uncommonly interested in turkey details: They would memorize individual preferences (Uncle Fred likes dark meat) and they always knew the weight of the turkey they had cooked. I thought: Wow, that's one important hunk of meat. Having figured that out, I would have been disoriented if a year had come when we didn't have turkey for Thanksgiving. Candied sweet potatoes I could have lived without. But no turkey? Unthinkable.I knew of families who insisted on chicken or duck instead and I found this foreign and sad. It just seemed wrong.

But it wasn't the turkey; it was the tradition that really had me hooked. I just wanted to know that year-to-year, things stayed the same. Had I been born into a family that ate haggis for Thanksgiving, that would have been my anchor.

If you're a young, childless adult and you hate turkey, my advice is to switch Thanksgiving foods now, before any kids arrive. Just make sure that whatever you choose takes a lot of preparation and is eaten only on special occasions. And then when you become a parent, serve it every year with great fanfare. If the kids ask why the family doesn't have turkey like everyone else, tell them it's just another reason to be thankful.