Thanksgiving FAQ

For those Tough Turkey Day Questions

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click to enlarge MMMMM, TURKEY: A picture-perfect Thanksgiving bird. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
MMMMM, TURKEY: A picture-perfect Thanksgiving bird.

Is the story of The First Thanksgiving I was taught as a child really true?

According to the most oft-cited and reliable text concerning the subject, Edward Winslow's A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, the classic "First Thanksgiving" story is essentially true: In 1621, following a devastating first year in the New World, the Pilgrims enjoyed an especially bountiful harvest, and threw a three-day, all-you-can-eat celebration in the tradition of an English harvest festival.

And there were In-, excuse me, Native Americans there?

According to Winslow, yes. The area's Wampanoag tribes were reportedly friendly with the colonists, and had taught them to farm the native soil and store food.

Was there turkey?

Probably not. Most sources speculate that the "wild fowl" referred to in reports from that time meant waterfowl, and state that beyond venison and ducks or geese, it's tough to say what was eaten with any certainty.

Did they celebrate every year after that?

No. The second Thanksgiving wasn't until two years later, when the colonists prayed for rain during a particularly severe drought, and it came. After that, the next American "day of thanksgiving" wasn't until June of 1676, when Charleston, Mass., celebrated its establishment. Ironically, one of the accomplished goals celebrated was a victory against the area's "heathen natives," so there probably weren't any Native Americans sitting down to commune with the townsfolk that year.

How did Thanksgiving get moved back to the fall?

Technically, the Charleston party wasn't really Thanksgiving. There were a few "days of thanksgiving" celebrated between 1676 and 1863, but it was that year that Abraham Lincoln instituted a Thanksgiving holiday to be held on the last Thursday of November.

The last Thursday?

Yup. Franklin Roosevelt moved it back to the next-to-last Thursday in order to give business a little more breathing room before Christmas. And then, when Congress finally got around to officially conferring national-holiday status in 1941, it split the difference, designating the fourth Thursday of November, whether it was the last one or not.

So the story of The First Thanksgiving is really true?

No, of course not. Thanksgiving was designed in 1918 by a company called Durkee Famous Foods, as a marketing platform for its small cans of fried onions.

The stuff you put on top of green bean casserole?

Exactly. When executives at Durkee realized that was the only recipe including the fried onions to become a hit with the public, they desperately needed to tie the dish to some tradition or other, so they invented Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a sham, then?

I wouldn't call it a sham. Conspiracy might be a better word.

Conspiracy?

Oh, yeah. Haven't you heard? Modern-day Thanksgiving is little more than an overlapping web of rackets aimed at manipulating American consumers.

Come on, seriously?

Definitely. Let me ask you, do you hate Thanksgiving?

Of course I do. Everybody does. You have to get together with your family, your in-laws, your mom's always judgmental and your uncle always gets drunk and somebody runs crying from the table...

Actually, that's not you or your family.

What? Of course it is.

No it's not. That's an archetype propagated by the Media Entertainment Complex in order to make holiday-season movies and programming seem more resonant than they really are. Thanksgiving doesn't suck, you just think it does because you've been made to want your life to be like the lives of the characters in the shows that are all just vehicles for product sales.

That's crazy. I distinctly remember the time I ruined a centerpiece my sister took all day to make...

That was The Simpsons.

Really? Oh, well it doesn't matter, anyway. The real reason I hate Thanksgiving is because that's when my parents told me they were getting divorced because my father is gay...

That was Chandler on Friends. And no one in your family is exactly like Holly Hunter in Home for the Holidays or Katie Holmes in Pieces of April, either.

It seems like a pretty huge deception, just to sell some movie tickets and commercial airtime.

Oh, you naïve little pawn. It goes much deeper than the M.E.C. The Religious Right is in on it, too.

Huh?

Don't you see? It might as well be a federal law that you interact with at least your nuclear family for most of the weekend. And before Thanksgiving dinner, somebody always suggests that you go around the room and say one thing you're thankful for. Who are you thanking, Zeus? Uh-uh. Do you think that the reinforcement of family values and prayer at the dinner table just kind of snuck into Thanksgiving? No way, man. There are no coincidences.

I think you might be reading a little too much into it, don't you?

That's right, just keep your head in the sand. I haven't even gotten to how the misogynists who run big league sports use the holiday to subjugate women by keeping men on the couch watching football all day, or how the tryptophan in turkey isn't a naturally occurring sedative, but rather a governmental experiment in remote nervous-system control...

Uh, yeah. Listen, this has been very informative, but I've got to go. Thanks for telling me about Edward Winslow and Abraham Lincoln and all that—

Wait!

Yes?

Don't you want to hear about Easter? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is behind it, you know.

Hello?

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