Be Thankful You’re Not Eating Eels
Here in the United States, the annual celebration of Thanksgiving is only weeks away. Rather than get into a lengthy and useless discussion about how this is a day we should give thanks for being alive and perhaps contemplate the less fortunate, instead I want to avoid arguments and focus on something most people have forgotten:
Thanksgiving as we know it is about as real as Santa coming down a chimney.
It’s all baloney. Hooey. Urban legends. No pilgrims in black outfits with shiny buckles sitting down to feast with their Native American friends. No bountiful feasts. No pumpkin pie.
Sacrilege! you say. Nay, I speaketh the truth. Look yon and see:
The first celebrations of “thanksgiving” held in North America happened in 1565, according to most scholars, when the Spaniards in Florida fasted (not feasted!) to honor God for favoring them. In 1621, the first documented Thanksgiving celebration occurred in Plymouth, but even that one was a far cry from what our grade school history books depicted.
On the menu were a variety of items based on what the folks had harvested and caught that year. Waterfowl, venison, cornmeal bread, fish, eel, doves, and perhaps shellfish would have been the staples at that dinner, which lasted between one and three days, depending on which person’s description you read. There were Native Americans there, but they were only allowed in because they brought food with them and helped the settlers hunt. No potatoes, sweet or white, as these weren’t a common crop yet. Turkey is mentioned, but it was considered a rather distasteful bird that you only ate when nothing else was available. Dried fruit would have been the closest thing to dessert. And, for the members of the community who weren’t so God-fearing, a few mugs of ale or mead.
In 1623, the first official Thanksgiving celebration was held. This time there was no feasting and no local tribes were invited. Instead, it was a solemn day of prayer and fasting as the Puritans held sway. The next one happened in 1637 to celebrate the return of the men who’d traveled to Connecticut and fought in the Indian Wars. That historic event included the slaughter of more than 700 Pequot tribespeople, which led to the National Day of Mourning Native Americans have observed since 1970.
George Washington tried to start a national day of observing thanksgiving and prayer in 1789, but it didn’t catch on until Lincoln set the permanent date of the last Thursday in November for Thanksgiving. In the years that followed, certain traditions came into being. Pumpkin pie was introduced as the official dessert. Turkey became a staple (as did pigeon pie for a while!).
The first official linking of football and Thanksgiving happened in the late 1800s, with both professional and college games getting showcased.
President Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November, at the behest of Federated Department Stores, who wanted a longer Christmas shopping season. This raised a furor in Washington, and finally Congress stepped in with a compromise: Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday in November, meaning in some years that would be the last week and in others the second-to-last week.
So, there you have it. The Thanksgiving you know is based on fake history, commercialism, evil colonization tactics, and a change in American eating habits.
Now, will someone please pass me a drumstick and some gravy?
Until next time …