Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Original Thanksgiving Versus Now

The great American Thanksgiving holiday has always been an opportunity for the citizenry to travel way too many miles, on roads with way too many cars, with kids who are way too impatient, to eat a meal with way too many calories among families that usually comprised of way too many jerks. Sorry...couldn’t help my self.

Anyway, today’s affair barely looks like the original that occurred back in 1621 when Edward Winslow wrote about the first Thanksgiving in the New World. Not only has the menu changed significantly, but how the meal was served and by whom has been turned on its head. (Read about the new way to conduct Thanksgiving).

“Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer and affordeth variety of other fish; in September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. We have mussels ... at our doors.

Whoa…lobster, eels and mussels. No golden brown turkey, at least at this first feast.

“Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will; all the spring-time the earth sendeth forth naturally very good sallet herbs. Here are grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also. Strawberries, gooseberries, raspas, etc. Plums of tree sorts, with black and red, being almost as good as a damson; abundance of roses, white, red, and damask; single, but very sweet indeed…”

I did find another source that said “besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild turkeys”.” Even though this seems to validate the existence of turkey at the first meal, it might just be modern marketing that got it turkeys so firmly in Thanksgiving. (More on that in a minute).

Without getting into a lot of detail, hunting for wild turkey is one of the most challenging of all game…even with modern shotguns, camouflage and decoys. wild turkey’s have the keenest eyesight in the entire animal world, and getting within 20 yards of them to successful bag one with a bow and arrow, spear or one of those Pilgrim muskets that looked like Louis Armstrong's trumpet would be exceedingly difficult.

How and why would modern marketing try to create an image the original Thanksgiving that was not true? It called money. Just like every Hollywood actor needs to be in a Christmas movie…sort of as an annuity…food companies had to have a dish that is served for Thanksgiving.

For example, the ubiquitous green bean casserole with that gloppy mushroom sauce and fried onions on top was by no means something the Pilgrims ate, but instead was concocted by the folks at Campbell's soup in the mid-1950s and weaseled in to the standard practices of the holiday.

Consider all the concoctions made with the sweet potato, which was believed to be a potent aphrodisiac back in the day. (Yes, Puritan’s, despite their name and reputation were obviously attracted to that sort of thing). Now we put marshmallows, brown sugar and all sorts of corporate products in those dishes that did not exist at the time.

The original Thanksgiving did offer some nice organic veggies. According to sources “The produce from the gardens of New Plymouth included what were then called “herbs:” parsnips, collards, carrots, parsley, turnips, spinach, cabbages, sage, thyme, marjoram and onions. Dried cultivated beans and dried wild blueberries may have been available as well as native cranberries, pumpkins, grapes and nuts.

This next section is where the most change has happened to the Thanksgiving tradition. According to the custom in colonists' homes in those days, “children used to wait on adults as they sat down to eat”. How on earth did this radical change occur?

In our family, the children have their own table and are waited on hand and foot like little kings and queens. Each parent sort of puts on a show for the other on how well they coddle their children, cut their meat and butter their bread and it becomes fodder for intra-family gossip when one parent doesn’t seem to do the job either better or as well as the other.

At the original Thanksgiving, the food was served “according to the social standing of a person and the best food and dishes were placed near the most important people in the gathering and people did not get to sample all the dishes on the table but had to eat only what was closest to them.” In other words, the children usually didn’t even get any turkey. (Or eels).

Dogs in those days were of course for controlling rodents, and protection. They were not allowed anywhere near the dinner table. These days the dogs have somehow not only worked their way into the Thanksgiving celebration…they are also part of the entertainment.

At our house, all family members bring their dogs and everyone gets to marvel at how such a diverse cross section of breeds can fight, knock things over, get slobber on everything and everybody, and scare the bejesus out of the really young kids, (sometimes biting them, of course accidentally or because “the child provoked the dog”).

Some of the dogs actually sit UNDER THE TABLE during the meal, where you can feel their hot breath on your lap and pressure of their furry bodies on your feet…while they wait for you to accidentally (or not accidentally) drop some food. By the end of the night, the dogs and children are passed out all over the beds, while the adults awkwardly wedge themselves onto the couches, pretending to care about the Detroit Lions and whoever they happen to be playing.

Anyway, we all love Thanksgiving…kids, dogs, jerks and all. Ya’ll have a Happy One!

1 comment:

GSB said...

Glad you got that off your chest...I haven't been to a family Thanksgiving lately...I guess that's why they were relatively civilized.