Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Let the Belt-Loosening Begin: A History of Thanksgiving

We all know the drill. Just days from now, your relatives will invade like a crazed faction of clowns on a pie convention. Yes, Uncle Buford WILL talk about his colonoscopy at the dinner table, Aunt Bertha WILL unceremoniously re-arrange your decorations, and the Staler kids WILL ruin your new carpet through a series of carefully planned chex-mix attacks...and you will love every minute of it. After all, this isn't your typical, run-of-the-mill holiday - this is THANKSGIVING folks, and all bets are off. That diet you started after recovering from your Halloween sugar coma? Gone. Your jeans from two years ago you swore you would fit into again by Christmas? Ain't gonna happen. Might as well sit back, relax, and let the mouth-stuffing begin in all it's American apple-pie-with-three-scoops-of-vanilla-and-chocolate-syrup glory.

But where does it come from? Oh sure, we all know that there was something about a group of people with weird hats and another group who didn't really invite them over, yet at some point decided to throw a giant cooked bird and some yams their way....but where does it come from really? Who authorized this thing? And what are the bets that cousin Bart will eat all the rhubarb pie in one sitting? Well, pull up that recliner lever and grab the yams - here are some facts to get you up to speed.

- The "first" Thanksgiving, as you probably guessed, is a point of contention. Spanish settlers under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés held a thanksgiving mass and feast on September 8, 1565 after landing in St. Augustine, Florida. Technically, this was the first recorded "Thanksgiving" on what is now American soil, but ask any mom who watched her kid rehearse for two weeks in a giant, somewhat frightening turkey outfit, and you're likely to receive skepticism. You can decide for yourself.

- The Thanksgiving at Jamestown is another contender. You see folks, a long time ago, in a land, well...not so far away, a group of settlers showed up at "Berkeley Hundred" (December 4, 1619) - a site about 20 minutes upstream from Jamestown. It was declared (possibly with a drumroll) that every year the date of arrival would be a day of "Thanksgiving" to God. Now, were there groups of passed out men on couches with gravy drool running down their faces? Again, you can decide.

- The Plymouth Thanksgiving, or as the Pilgrim marketing people used to say "The Big Gut Buster" (tm), is seen by some as the more direct ancestor of our modern holiday. Here's what we know: The Pilgrims had a successful harvest in 1621 (sound of Pilgrims whooping and high-fiving). There was a Native American named Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn and catch eels ("go Squaaanto, go Squaaanto, you're a rooock star!"). The Pilgrims had themselves a big old feast, with plenty of fowl and deer - and there WERE Native Americans present, including King Massasoit, who according to English sources helped save the Plymouth colony from starvation (Massasoit stands on a cliff with a full chorus singing). So yes, there is SOME truth to the classroom plays for the last 50 years. All that paper mache and vicious fighting for the leading Pilgrim role was worth it.

- Thanksgiving began to catch on. The party-crazed Puritans over at the Massachusetts Bay Colony began a Thanksgiving day in 1630, and the good folks at Charleston, Massachusetts "cranked it up" (said with English accent) in 1671. Did they dance the Macarena while doing jello shots? Well, no - it was a day of spiritual observation - but Thanksgiving was here, and like the 2 tons of turkey leftovers in your freezer - it was here to stay.

- So when did it become official? Well, during the Revolutionary War (or the war of Harry Potter-Sounding-Scone-Eating-Aggression) the Continental Congress declared a day of Thanksgiving in 1777. In 1789 ol' George Washington proclaimed a Thanksgiving (the first one by the National Government) for the 26th Day of November. But it wasn't until Abraham "I Wish Big and Tall Stores Had Been Invented" Lincoln that things began to solidify. In 1863 He declared it should be observed the "last Thursday in November. This went on for about 8 decades, until Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill officially making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

- Canadian Thanksgiving Day? What? Yes, Canada has it's very own Thanksgiving Day the second Monday of October. I mean, isn't that CUTE? (sudden hate mail from geese) Here is the two cent history (in Canadian money): Martin Frobisher was trying to find a northern passage. Fails. Starts settlement around Newfoundland. 1578 has ceremony to give thanks. Boom - Canadian Thanksgiving. Don't try stuffing the moose.

- Whats with the Turkey and Sweet Potatoes? Well, take a look at the traditional Thanksgiving meal and something interesting pops out - most of the food, cranberries, corn, sweet potatoes, etc, are either native to the Americas or brought here by the early settlers. That's right, we may be passed out afterward, but we are passed out AMERICAN style.

- What about that Parade thing? The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Started in 1924 by workers of the company. In 1927 Goodyear threw in Felix the Cat as a giant balloon, and the rest is Helium history. Over the years we've seen Kermit, Bugs, Mickey, Garfield, and even Willard Scott...although he wasn't tethered.

- Black Friday, or as some like to call it "Give-Me-That-New-Toy-Model-Or-Die" Day, is supposed to be the official start of the Christmas season. For those that have been subjected to looped elevator Christmas music at Lowes since August, this is of course ridiculous a joke, but tell that to a 10-foot inflatable Rudolph. The term "Black Friday" was given by the Philadelphia police in the 1960s in reference to the traffic jams and mob-like crowds. Why is it so busy? Well, most of us have off work, AND we have enough carbs in us to kill a small horse - makes sense, really.

So there you have it. Thanksgiving is indeed as American as, well, five or six helpings of apple pie. So, don't worry about the commercialism, the hectic pace, or the in-law arguments. In the end, we are all in this together, and if we truly give thanks for what really matters, we may just earn our seat at the adult table...and possibly an extra helping of gravy.

1 comment:

Lorna Appleby said...
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