Thanksgiving is celebrated, in a major and significant way, by a great number of people living in the United States of America. Signifying a familial celebration of a successful harvest, many individuals, families and friends observe this long-standing holiday, traditionally over a multitude of meals, expressed in dishes representative of the season: turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, the list goes on.
While many folks celebrate this culinary holiday in the traditional way, spin-offs have begun to arise around Thanksgiving. There’s Friendsgiving, typically occurring within a week of actual Thanksgiving and focusing on celebrations between those who were unable or unwilling to be with their families.
For one particular Charlotte man, there was room for another tradition. In 2018, Brian Martin invented Dipsgiving (we found one previous mention of it as a dinner idea from 2016 but not in the context of the holiday, so we’re comfortable with confirming his claim to have invented the event).
It’s a simple enough concept; rather than go through the stressful cooking process, which can last all day, participants formulate recipes to represent each traditional menu item in dip form. As for what you’re dipping, that’s your chance to get creative; crackers work, but you can go with fruit, cookies, bread, whatever.
“Everybody loves dips,” says Martin, who followed his inaugural 2018 event with Dipsgiving 2: Dip Harder in 2019. “Maybe you don’t love all dip, but the dip is like the perfect food. And you eat the utensil! Minimal cleanup. You’re certainly full afterwards.”
Martin is one of those people you can’t help but like; with a sharp mind and wonderful family, he’s quick to share his quirky sense of humor and eye for opportunities.
When asked how Dipsgiving started, Martin shares, “I’m a big fan of absurdity … why not this?”
Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday, and he swears it’s not because his birthday lands on the same week.
“I almost don’t even think about that,” he says of the coincidence. “I just like any holiday that doesn’t involve me spending a lot of money, but does involve eating a lot … It’s like, you can just show up somewhere and there’s food.”
This year, of course, people shouldn’t really be just showing up anywhere. Despite the momentum from 2019’s Dip Harder event, which turned out double the amount of participants than the previous, Martin just couldn’t envision making it happen in a COVID-19 world. A virtual event would mean showing off your ideas but not sharing them, while a socially distanced in-person event would be nearly impossible for something like Dipsgiving, where everyone is reaching into the same bowls of food.
Martin did not want to compromise the principles of togetherness and freedom that Dipsgiving stood for. Still, the idea can be co-opted for families that are already quarantining together, giving them a chance to get creative rather than cook the same old Thanksgiving dishes to pass around the table.
The founding father
Brian has worked in education for 12 years, finishing his master’s degree a decade ago before beginning his work in public schools. He’s lived abroad and worked in international schools, and has been working in a learning center in Charlotte since 2014.
Martin has been married to his wife, Jaclyn, since 2011. They have a son, Miles, named after the main character in the film Baby Driver, he says, though it’s hard to tell whether he’s telling the truth. He gets a kick out of telling people different inspirations for his son’s name — Miles Morales of Spider-Man fame, legendary American jazz musician Miles Davis, Miles “Tails” Prower from the Sonic the Hedgehog video games; it changes day to day. Martin has maintained a blog entry for every day of Miles’ life called Paternity Perils.
Prior to his work in education, Martin worked at a movie theater for 13 years. “The two big phases of my life, really, divide between movie theater and education.” It was during the movie theater phase that one of his happiest Thanksgiving memories occurred, as he recalls multiple regulars showing up that Thursday with plates of food for him and his coworkers who had to work the holiday.
Hearing him tell the story, it’s clear it inspired the way he saw Thanksgiving from there on out, and quite possibly played a role in the invention of Dipsgiving. With all his talk about showing up to eat without spending money, Martin clearly views the togetherness of Thanksgiving as the real treat.
“Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday; no one will convince me otherwise,” he says. “When we lived in Europe, the one holiday we tried to expose as many people to as possible was Thanksgiving. It is a uniquely American holiday. A lot of people in the United States don’t realize that a lot of people around the world don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.”
Bringing Thanksgiving overseas
In Austria, he and Jaclyn hauled a turkey in a suitcase across Vienna on public transportation to ensure their friends could experience that authentic touch. They’d prepared all the food themselves, which they soon learned was a time-consuming mistake. They made the proper adaptations the following year in Sweden, sharing recipes with all invited, along with instructions to pick a dish and bring it.
After hosting their Sweden Friendsgiving, the couple still found the preparation and cooking to be time-consuming and tedious, and an idea formed out of the potluck style of Thanksgiving they had been celebrating overseas.
“Everyone was engaging with the dishes for the first time. Most of the people who brought over dishes had never prepared any sort of Thanksgiving Day dish before. Which is kind of a neat idea,” he says.
He enjoyed the creativity of the dishes everyone brought over, and he kicked around an idea with friends: “You know what’d be awesome? If all this food was gravy and dipping sauce.”
When they returned to America, it became a bit of a joke, but as time went on, friends contributed ideas on how best to “dip-ify” a classic Thanksgiving Day meal, and soon, “dip-ifying” all Thanksgiving Day meals became the challenge those friends took on.
“So the idea behind Dipsgiving … these are the typical Thanksgiving tropes: your cranberry sauce, your stuffing, your turkey, all of these things, and now, everybody has to pick one, and you have to turn it into a dip,” Martin explains. “No one’s gonna tell you how to do it; you have to figure out a way to do it yourself.”
It’s not just a food competition, however. The level of creativity coming from all participants brought things to another level.
“It’s as much a food experience as it is an art installation,” Martin said.
That’s one reason we won’t see a Dipsgiving Cookbook any time soon; that would go against the creative spirit. “The Joy of Dipsgiving lies in figuring out how to make your dish,” says Martin.
Dipsgiving is born
Brian and Jaclyn hosted the first Dipsgiving shortly after moving into a new house. A guest list was devised, and the fledgling holiday started to take shape. Through Facebook, the group created a list of menu items to be dip-ified, crossing them off as they went so no two people would pick the same one.
As the group kicked ideas around, the competitive spark started to flare up. Some participants asked about awards, so four categories were devised: Best Presentation, Best Pairing, the Dorcas Reilly Memorial Award for Innovation, and Best Dip.
Presentation was for the aesthetic look of the dish; Best Pairing judged how well the dip was matched with the chip; The Dorcas Reilly Memorial Award for Innovation, so named for the creator of the American Green Bean Casserole recipe who passed before Dipsgiving could be held, recognized the creator with the most unique construction of their dish; and Best Overall Dip rated, well, the best overall dip.
Seasonal gifts, simple items like an assortment of chocolates, were picked as prizes to the winner of each category, though bragging rights were truly what everyone was after, Martin says.
Brian himself just made a quick and easy dip for the first year, focusing more of his energy on running a smooth event. He expected some interesting creations, but admits, “Everyone got more into it than I expected. Some of the stuff that showed up was just next-level and everybody loved it.”
There were fried potato balls with gravy dip, bourbon pecan dip, and a surprisingly delicious salmon dip. Another participant baked a pita bread and shaped it around a bowl of turkey dip to look like the feathers of an actual turkey.
It’s a shame that any ideas for new creations will be put on hold this year, but safety comes first. Martin does have plans to continue spreading the Dipsgiving message through a new Instagram account he started, and says he will create other social media pages as time permits, but word-of-mouth is still key.
He keeps in constant contact with the “Bards of Dipsgiving,” all first-year participants who couldn’t make the second event but had hoped to come in 2020.
“They’re spending time with their families on Thanksgiving and they’re like, ‘Why are we spending so much time with this silverware? This could be so much easier. I’ve seen it,’” Martin says.
Surely, the one-year hiatus will only inspire more creative dishes for the 2021 event. Might we suggest a title? Dipsgiving Never Dies.