I keep getting requests to repeat my Thanksgiving blogs. Here are the two most popular in chronological order. Happy Bird Day!
From November 23, 2012
Thanksgiving is red headed step child of holidays. It is a holiday that, in principal, celebrates all that is good and holy about humanity. In reality it is a celebration of a day that, within a century, led to the subjugation and murder of millions of people. As you can clearly see one does not blend well with the other. There is some good news though. Despite what you read on Facebook, the original Pilgrim Separatists, or whack job religious fundamentalists (depending on your point of view), did not kill the first Native Americans they met. In fact when Squanto, the liaison between the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims, died he was eulogized by William Bradford, the Pilgirms’ governor, with these words, “Here Squanto fell ill of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose, which the Indians take as a symptom of death, and within a few days he died. He begged the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishman’s God in heaven, and bequeathed several of his things to his English friends, as remembrances. His death was a great loss.” Of course part of his conversion was probably due to the fact that the Wampanoag considered him a traitor, many historians believe he was poisoned by his own people, and even went so far as to assign him a second (a/k/a assistant) for his dealings with the Pilgrims. That was, pretty much, unheard of for Indians.
While historians, those pesky people with a stick in their butt, point out that there were Thanksgiving celebrations prior to the one in Plymouth, they completely miss the point. It doesn’t matter if some Spanish soldiers survived in Florida for a while. What matters is that the Pilgrims stuck around and became an integral part of the developing nation. In fact their wildly conservative, separatist, views still underpin much of our nation’s beliefs, for good or ill.
So we look to the winter of 1621 as the beginning of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving at Plymouth
In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.
Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.
In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations.
I should note that wild dogs were plentiful back then. They are what Lewis and Clark would subsist on many years later.
So, obviously, the original Thanksgiving feast was different than the one you are going to see today.
Oh well, as long as we’re here, let’s take a look at how Thanksgiving changed over those early years.
The Pilgrims set ground at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. Their first winter was devastating. At the beginning of the following fall, they had lost 46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower. But the harvest of 1621 was a bountiful one. And the remaining colonists decided to celebrate with a feast – including 91 natives who had helped the Pilgrims survive their first year. It is believed that the Pilgrims would not have made it through the year without the help of the natives. The feast was more of a traditional English harvest festival than a true “thanksgiving” observance. It lasted three days.
Governor William Bradford sent “four men fowling” after wild ducks and geese. It is not certain that wild turkey was part of their feast. However, it is certain that they had venison. The term “turkey” was used by the Pilgrims to mean any sort of wild fowl.
Another modern staple at almost every Thanksgiving table is pumpkin pie. But it is unlikely that the first feast included that treat. The supply of flour had been long diminished, so there was no bread or pastries of any kind. However, they did eat boiled pumpkin, and they produced a type of fried bread from their corn crop. There was also no milk, cider, potatoes, or butter. There was no domestic cattle for dairy products, and the newly-discovered potato was still considered by many Europeans to be poisonous. But the feast did include fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison, and plums.
This “thanksgiving” feast was not repeated the following year. Many years passed before the event was repeated. It wasn’t until June of 1676 that another Day of thanksgiving was proclaimed. On June 20 of that year the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, held a meeting to determine how best to express thanks for the good fortune that had seen their community securely established. By unanimous vote they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk, to proclaim June 29 as a day of thanksgiving. It is notable that this thanksgiving celebration probably did not include Native Americans, as the celebration was meant partly to be in recognition of the colonists’ recent victory over the “heathen natives,” (see the proclamation). By then, it had become apparent to the settlers that the natives were a hindrance to their quest for more land, so the good will they shared at the first feast had long been lost. A hundred years later, in October of 1777 all 13 colonies joined in a thanksgiving celebration. It also commemorated the patriotic victory over the British at Saratoga. But it was a one-time affair.
Yeah, a mere 55 years after that first harvest the Indians had gone from “Saviors and Protectors” to “Heathen Savages” and were fair game for being murdered by the nice people who claimed that killing savages, and anything else they could think of, was “(an) acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ.”
Their words, not mine.
In any case fast forward to 1863. The nation was embroiled in a very uncivil war and President Lincoln was looking for anything positive he could share with a torn country. He, like the four previous presidents, had received a letter from Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer who appeared in Boston Ladies’ Magazine, asking him to nationalize the holiday. Unlike the previous four, he did. He declared the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving. That went along fine until Franklin D. Roosevelt noted that some Novembers had five Thursdays, and no one did any Christmas shopping until after the holiday, so he declared that the fourth Thursday of November would be Thanksgiving, with hilarious results.
Some people claimed that the true holiday was the Republican one (Lincoln’s) and others held firm to the new proclamation and others still, Hi Texas!, claimed them both as national holidays. Finally in 1941, realizing that the country had more pressing issues, Congress declared the fourth Thursday as the national holiday and then told everyone to shut the f*** up.
Simply put, every Thanksgiving – excluding the one where Squanto and Bradford gutted some deer – has been marred by controversy and/or violence.
Which, given the historical precedents, makes perfect sense.
From November 22, 2013
I have often called Thanksgiving the red headed step child of holidays. Now I have made red headed step children mad. So’ I’ll apologize to them – sorry, I tend to be a callous oaf – and just note that this holiday kind of gets shoved in the middle of other stuff. Most people go from the sexy cool of Halloween to the fiscal gluttony of Christmas without pausing. It’s gotten so bad that Sarah Palin was forced to announce she was against the War on Christmas in October. So you can see how Thanksgiving could get trampled. And now, with more and more stores caving in to pubic pressure to be open on the holiday so people can shop on Gray Thursday, my new name for the day before Black Friday, the holiday is taking another hit. I’ve already noted that there are, historically, several days that have earned the title “Black Friday” and none of them have anything to do with shopping. Since this year the Thanksgiving radio show will be today I figured I should take a moment to remind people how screwed up this day really is. For example, kiddie pageants all over the country celebrate out faithful Indian companion, Squanto. As I have noted before, that presents a problem.
In fact when Squanto, the liaison between the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims, died he was eulogized by William Bradford, the Pilgirms’ governor, with these words, “Here Squanto fell ill of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose, which the Indians take as a symptom of death, and within a few days he died. He begged the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishman’s God in heaven, and bequeathed several of his things to his English friends, as remembrances. His death was a great loss.” Of course part of his conversion was probably due to the fact that the Wampanoag considered him a traitor, many historians believe he was poisoned by his own people, and even went so far as to assign him a second (a/k/a assistant) for his dealings with the Pilgrims. That was, pretty much, unheard of for Indians.
Yeah, well, given that Squanto was, for reasons unknown, shunned by his tribe, captured and made a slave, taken to Europe, escaped 6 years later to return to America, was shunned again by his people and then taken in, reluctantly by the Pilgrims who offered him the worst eulogy ever. And the eulogy was due to the fact that his own people probably poisoned him. While a more interesting story than the one you’re used to it makes for a difficult children’s show.
Also, that “assistant” thing I mentioned was unheard of for the Indians. By treaty, hammered out by years of inter-tribal wars, each tribe assigned one voice for negotiations. So if that voice said the tribe would paint themselves pink and do the Hokey Pokey the tribe would simply say where and when. Assigning a second voice was a huge insult to Squanto and he would have known that.
There’s something else to consider as well. About 100 years previous there was a colony in Roanoke Virginia. According to people who have no clue about what they’re talking about, the colony disappeared without a trace. Even worse, they left a sign that no human can decipher with the word CROATOAN on it.
Okay, say hi to the Croatoan Indians, also known as members of the Lumbee Indian family. Yes, they still exist and their web site is current. The settlers, as was common with English settlers, were woefully ignorant and arrogant. They crossed the ocean and just expected to find plenty of food and shelter. Oddly this wasn’t a good plan. While the land had been tended by the Indians who died out from the plague earlier, food still requires agriculture, a skill that eluded these city bred immigrants. So, hungry and lonely, they walked about two miles down river to the Croatoan settlement where the natives were naturists.
In other words their options were starvation and death or an island full of naked natives who were willing to share their food. They wisely chose door number 2.
Now, as I noted, English settlers were ignorant and arrogant. The Pilgrims were no different. When they arrived and found blue eyed, red skinned, natives who spoke English it never occurred to them that there might be an interesting story behind that. In fact they barely mentioned it. Because, just like in Star Trek, that’s the way things were supposed to be.
Oh, and Squanto wasn’t one of those. He learned English the old fashioned way, from his captors.
Anyway, thanks to Coolest Holiday Parties, we have a list of stupid trivia for you to win bar bets with.
The traditional cornucopia was a curved goat’s horn filled to brim with fruits and grains. According to Greek legend, Amalthea (a goat) broke one of her horns and offered it to Greek God Zeus as a sign of reverence. As a sign of gratitude, Zeus later set the goat’s image in the sky also known as constellation Capricorn. Cornucopia is the most common symbol of a harvest festival. A Horn shaped container, it is filled with abundance of the Earth’s harvest. It is also known as the ‘horn of plenty’.
It was not until 1941, that congress declared Thanksgiving as a national holiday. It was declared to be the fourth Thursday in November.
The first known thanksgiving feast or festival in North America was celebrated by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and the people he called “Tejas” (members of the Hasinai group of Caddo-speaking Native Americans).
Here’s one of those funny Thanksgiving facts: Turkeys have heart attacks. When the Air Force was conducting test runs and breaking the sound barrier, fields of turkeys would drop dead.
Turducken, a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken, is becoming more popular in Thanksgiving (originated in Louisiana). A turducken is a de-boned turkey stuffed with a de-boned duck, which itself is stuffed with a small de-boned chicken. The cavity of the chicken and the rest of the gaps are filled with, at the very least, a highly seasoned breadcrumb mixture (although some versions have a different stuffing for each bird).
Fossil evidence shows that turkeys roamed the Americas 10 million years ago.
91% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
There are regional differences as to the “stuffing” (or “dressing”) traditionally served with the turkey. Southerners generally make theirs from cornbread, while in other parts of the country white bread is the base. One or several of the following may be added: oysters, apples, chestnuts, raisins, celery and/or other vegetables, sausage or the turkey’s giblets.
Thomas Jefferson thought the concept of Thanksgiving was “the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard.”
Every President since Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day. But in 1939, 1940, and 1941 Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving the third Thursday in November to lengthen the holiday shopping season. This upset people.
Fifty percent of Americans put the stuffing inside the Turkey.
The North American holiday season (generally the Christmas shopping season in the U.S.) traditionally begins when Thanksgiving ends, on “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving); this tradition has held forth since at least the 1930s.
On the West Coast of the US, Dungeness crab is common as an alternate main dish instead of turkey, as crab season starts in early November.
Corn is one of the popular symbols of thanksgiving. It came in many varieties and colors – red, white, yellow and blue. Some Americans considered blue and white corn sacred. The oldest corns date 7000 years back and were grown in Mexico.
Benjamin Franklin wanted the national bird to be a turkey.
Several people wanted to have an official day of thanksgiving, including George Washington, who proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789. Several people did not want it including President Thomas Jefferson.
Here’s one of the most unbelievable Thanksgivng facts: The Guinness Book of Records states that the greatest dressed weight recorded for a turkey is 39.09 kg (86 lbs), at the annual “heaviest turkey” competition held in London, England on December 12, 1989.
The first Thanksgiving was not a feast, but rather a time when Native Americans helped Pilgrims by bringing them food and helping them build off the land.
More than 40 million green bean casseroles are served on Thanksgiving.
Turkey is the traditional dish for the Thanksgiving feast. In the US, about 280 million turkeys are sold for the Thanksgiving celebrations. There is no official reason or declaration for the use of turkey. They just happened to be the most plentiful meat available at the time of the first Thanksgiving in 1621, starting the tradition.
Twenty percent of cranberries eaten are eaten on Thanksgiving.
The preliminary estimate of the number of turkeys raised in the United States in 2005 is 256 million. That’s down 3 percent from 2004. The turkeys produced in 2004 weighed 7.3 billion pounds altogether and were valued at $3.1 billion.
Turkeys were one of the first animals in the Americas to be domesticated.
Columbus thought that the land he discovered was connected to India, where peacocks are found in considerable number. And he believed turkeys were a type of peacock (they’re actually a type of pheasant). So he named them “tuka”, which is “peacock” in the Tamil language of India.
The ‘wishbone’ of the turkey is used in a good luck ritual on Thanksgiving Day.
The cranberry is a symbol and a modern diet staple of thanksgiving. Originally called crane berry, it derived its name from its pink blossoms and drooping head, which reminded the Pilgrims of a crane.
The Plymouth Pilgrims dined with the Wampanoag Indians for the First Thanksgiving.
The different nicknames for Thanksgiving Day: “Turkey Day” (after the traditional Thanksgiving dinner), “T-Day” (an abbreviation of either “Thanksgiving Day” or “Turkey Day”), “Macy’s Day (this is exclusive to New York City – it is a reference to the Macy’s Day Parade), “Yanksgiving” (Canadians sometimes call the Thanksgiving in the US as “Yanksgiving” to distinguish it from the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday.)
The First Thanksgiving lasted for three days.
Contrary to popular belief, Native Americans did not eat cranberries. They did, however, find them extremely useful for dying fabric and decorating pottery.
The Native Americans wore deerskin and fur, not blankets.
A spooked turkey can run at speeds up to 20 miles per hour. They can also burst into flight approaching speeds between 50-55 mph in a matter of seconds.
Turkeys are first documented over two thousand years ago in Central America and Mexico.
In October of 1777 all 13 colonies celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time; however it was a one-time affair commemorating a victory over the British at Saratoga.
There are three places in the United States named after the holiday’s traditional main course — Turkey, Texas; Turkey Creek, La.; and Turkey, N.C. There are also nine townships around the country named “Turkey,” with three in Kansas.
Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, campaigned to make Thanksgiving a National Holiday in 1827 and succeeded.
Wild turkeys, while technically the same species as domesticated turkeys, have a very different taste from farm-raised turkeys. Almost all of the meat is “dark” (even the breasts) with a more intense turkey flavor. Older heritage breeds also differ in flavor.
Actually, Sarah Josepha Hale started campaigning for Thanksgiving in 1827 but it wasn’t designated as a holiday until Lincoln signed the Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863.
Old Abe did love his proclamations.