East Coast Turkey
Thanksgiving is a day thick with plenty. The penultimate November Thursday marries history, tradition, and myth in commemorative indulgence. Its goals are less commercial and Puritan-stiff than many a holiday, and it thumps with seasonal and human spirit.
The history of the day of thanks trickles down from early American settlers. It was to be a day of rest from battle with Native Americans, and the gruesome winter, which took the lives of nearly half of the early pilgrims. The first account of Thanksgiving dates to 1623, chronicled in Eliot's New-England History, and tells of Governor Bradford who "sent out a company for game [turkey which was of plenty in the are]...and abundant materials for a feast...and they feasted Massasoit and ninety of his Indians, and they thanked God for the good and the good things in it. So they kept their first Thanksgiving."
In an article published by the New York Times in 1874, the author describes the peculiarity of this occasion. Noting the 'spontaneity' of the event, that its organic inception was free of state or religious ties. It was at its core in virtue of generosity. The first Thanksgiving Day put aside hostilities of the recently displaced pilgrims and ninety nearly-naked displaced Native Americans, to share a plentiful, but notably undercooked, meal.
The first national day of Thanksgiving was in 1776, christened by the recently elected President George Washington at Valley Forge. It was announced under times of great duress, during which America was fighting the Revolutionary War, and winter was fast approaching the battered soldiers. Food was scarce and their clothing was not fit for the bitter cold. Washington's mandate for Thanksgiving gave soldiers a day of rest and opportunity to take mass in their quarters. One of the troops accounted the day exclaiming, "I think all we have to be thankful for is that we are alive and not in the grave with many of our friends."
The day became a tool of politicians, an ad-hoc day of thanks, to be put to use amidst crisis. President Abraham Lincoln was the first to set an official date, asking for thanks to be given to the Union soldiers the last Thursday in November. The contrite Lincoln hoped to assuage the fragmenting national sentiment amidst the bloodshed of the Civil War. Thus Thursday November 26, 1863, became the first established Thanksgiving. The president did this in fashion with the New England tradition of placing holidays the last Thursday of the month. Though the date was not was not fixed until Congress passed a bill in 1941 under Franklin D. Roosevelt, creating an "official" holiday.
Today's Thanksgiving is a more elegant cousin of its predecessors. Though the spirit is much the same, ripe with family celebration, ritual, and thanks. Relatives return home from across the country and the globe, traffic is at its maximum, stores are stuffed to the brim, and everyone talks turkey.
Thanksgiving morning is for some a time for a seasonally themed mass and for others a moment to enjoy the pageantry of Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day parade in New York. Their floats and dancers prance in a seasonally themed spectacle in southward bound journey through Manhattan. Iconic football games are fought. Families catch up, tell stories, share photos and warm embraces. Some gather around a hearth while others across a table for seasonal cups of warm apple cider, and network TV plays welcome repeats of the charming minimalist Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special.
On Thanksgiving Day, kitchens bustle with the clatter of last minute preparations. The evening's menu animates a carbohydrate smorgasbord, shape shifting thematically across the country to involve the seeds of local cuisine. Though cranberry chutney, mounds of creamed mashed potatoes, celery spiked stuffing plucked from the cavity of the meals centerpiece, the bulbous roast bird, are ubiquitous offerings to the pilgrims of yore. At the end of the meal, round and spilling from our chairs, we slip a slice of quivering pumpkin pie, teaming with cinnamon and the charisma of friendly hands onto our plates. People are too full for words, but none need be said. The bounty that renders us sweaty and mute speaks for the centuries, it whispers "thank you" through the exhausted smiles.
We at MyHeritage.com would like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and to thank you for all of your support.
We leave you with the Thanksgiving reflections of a Great American Poet, Jack Prelutsky.
I ate too much turkey,
I ate too much corn,
I ate too much pudding and pie,
I'm stuffed up with muffins
and much too much stuffin'
I'm probably going to die.
I piled up my plate
and I ate and I ate
but I wish I had known when to stop,
for I'm so crammed with yams,
sauces, gravies, and jams
that my buttons are starting to pop.
I'm full of tomatoes
and french fried potatoes
my stomach is swollen and sore,
but there's still some dessert,
so I guess it won't hurt
if I just eat a little bit more.