Tryptophan is a common amino acid, found in turkey and other foods. It's most often blamed for its sedative qualities at Thanksgiving time. But Americans eat plenty of turkey year-round without fretting about sudden bouts of narcolepsy. So perhaps tryptophan is just a handy excuse for something else: breaks from holiday — or family holiday — gatherings.
There's nothing wrong with napping, but there are other options to keep the occasion lively, with or without family and friends.
Pony up at the track
For generations, many New Orleanians have celebrated Thanksgiving at the New Orleans Fair Grounds, one of the busiest (and for the crowd, best dressed) days at the track (along with the spring running of the Louisiana Derby, a prelude to the Kentucky Derby for the winning horse). Traditionally Thanksgiving was opening day for racing season, but in recent years, the Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots has added events earlier in fall. At press time, the Fair Grounds was set to open thoroughbred racing season on Friday with a festive beginning to its Starlight Racing series. The evening was scheduled to include two ostrich races and a camel race.
There are 10 races scheduled for Thanksgiving and the first post time is at 11 a.m. The highlight of the day is the $100,000 Thanksgiving Handicap, a race for top sprinters. The Clubhouse offers Thanksgiving dinner beginning at $70 per person and reservations are required. There also is a Thanksgiving buffet offered in the grandstand for $32. Admission to the Grandstand is free; admission to the Clubhouse is $10. Visit www.fairgroundsracecourse.com for details.
A 'classic' competition
The annual Bayou Classic has always been known as a big weekend for alums of Southern University and Grambling State University, and organizers say the 2012 event drew 250,000 visitors to the city. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the football showdown, and Friday night features an equally fierce competition in the Superdome between the schools' marching bands: Southern's Human Jukebox and Grambling's Marching Tigers. The event also features a Greek show.
In 2011, a Thanksgiving Day parade was added to the weekend's festivities. The parade begins at 3 p.m. at the Superdome and ends at the French Market. The procession features the schools' marching bands, floats, alumni groups, members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and others.
There's also a golf tournament and other events to socialize with school alums and cheer the teams. Visit www.mybayouclassic.com for a full schedule.
Jingle your Bingle in City Park
Black Friday shopping is one harrowing way to get out of the house during the Thanksgiving weekend, but there's a more pleasant way to get a jump on the holidays. City Park kicks off Celebration in the Oaks the day after Thanksgiving (and it runs through Jan. 4, 2014).
Visitors can walk or ride the mini-train ($4) though the 20 acres decorated with holiday displays and hundreds of thousands of lights. Besides the park's ancient live oaks, the decorations also encompass the New Orleans Botanical Garden, Carousel Gardens and Storyland, and Celebration in the Oaks is the current home for Mr. Bingle, the iconic snowman who used to look over Canal Street during the holiday season.
Celebration in the Oaks features scenes of Christmas, including a Santa Gator, and whimsical and mythical light installations. There's a live oak hung with fleur-de-lis-shaped decorations, flamingo island with pink flamingos and palm trees, a Treasure Island area of the lagoon complete with pirate ship and mermaid, a unicorn and more. Admission is $8 and children 3 and under get in free. Visit www.celebrationintheoaks.com to buy tickets or for further information.
Thanksgiving Eve music
With students and expats home for the holiday, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is typically a big night out. Among the entertainment options is the Thanksgiving-friendly all-star band Tryptophunk at Tipitina's. The lineup includes bassist George Porter Jr., guitarist Brian Stoltz, organist John Gros, trombonists Mark Mullins and Craig Klein and drummer Terrance Houston. And who better to open the show than local funk rockers Gravy? If that lineup keeps revelers out late, some folks may have an excuse to feel sleepy on Thanksgiving Day.