as the gravy boat and cranberry sauce circumnavigated the
table as I was growing up, so too did reassuring-sounding
tales of the traditions of Thanksgiving. You would have thought,
to hear the chatter, that the 17th-century Pilgrims threw
an annual party with their Indian neighbors as special guests,
reflecting the general goodwill that prevailed and endured
among the races. At the expense of many a turkey, of course.
leftover turnips, those rumors tend to accumulate until someone
mercifully gets rid of them, so let’s go over a few of them.
I’m indebted, not surprisingly, to the Internet, where Plimoth
Plantation (www.plimoth. org) and www.snopes.com contributed
info. Not to mention The Thanksgiving Book by Jerome
Agel and Jason Shulman (Smithmark Publishers, 1987).
it originated neither with the Pilgrims nor in the New World.
This kind of feast certainly went on in England, and is traceable
way back in time to the Hebrew Feast of the Tabernacles, as
well as to Greek and Roman harvest festivals.
it wasn’t even really a Thanksgiving. For the Pilgrims, that
meant something even more solemn than their usual behavior.
When you’re drinking and dancing and pigging out, you’re pretty
pictures of the black-and-white-garbed, big-buckled Puritans?
You can put it down to having only black-and-white TV in those
days, but the fact is that they dressed that way only for
church or other formal functions. And they didn’t have those
Brobdingnagian buckles! Those arrived on the fashion scene
very late in the 1600s (and probably wouldn’t have appealed
to the Pilgrims anyway). We are talking earth colors, though,
so you wouldn’t have seen colorful Island wear at the table
back then either.
we think of as the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621 when
Governor William Bradford ordered a three-day feast to celebrate
the settlers’ first successful year on these shores. It was
a big blowout with the Wampanoag Indians as guests, and the
event was facilitated by two former slaves—Squanto and Samoset—who
true (as much as any nearly 500-year-old tale is true) that
Squanto helped the starving settlers cultivate the foreign
soil, resulting in a good harvest in 1621. But that wasn’t
all. In October, Bradford sent out a group of hunters who,
according to Edward Winslow, “in one day killed as much fowl
as . . . served the company almost a week. At which time,
amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of
the Indians coming among us, and among the rest their greatest
King Massasoit, with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained
didn’t become an annual event. The 1622 harvest was meager,
so no party was held. The following year, the harvest was
saved by a sudden rainfall, and another feast was spread.
A half-century of very occasional feasts followed, with the
Wampanoag made welcome, before the settlers decided to spend
the next several years wiping them out.
the states celebrated a Thanksgiving on Dec. 18, 1777, as
a reaction to the defeat of Burgoyne in Saratoga, but that
was another one-off.
on the menu back then? “Wild turkies” are mentioned in a contemporaneous
account, and it’s presumed that the party tucked into other
birds like geese, ducks and partridges, not to mention (and
I promise I won’t after this once) cranes, swans and eagles.
wasn’t available sugar, so no pumpkin pie, although a honey-sweetened
pudding was possible. Potatoes weren’t grown there then, and
what corn was available had at that point been dried to grind
into meal. But we’re talking Plymouth, so there might well
have been cod, clams and lobster on the table, an idea still
first festival on the fourth Thursday of November? The date
remains unknown. But the custom began to grow in the early
19th century, when the state of New York decided to have an
annual Thanksgiving Day, slowly prompting other states to
Thursday business may have been chosen by President Lincoln
in 1863, when he declared a day of Thanksgiving for the last
Thursday in November, probably to honor the Nov. 21, 1621,
anchoring of the Mayflower at Cape Cod. Lincoln had been pestered
for some time by Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the widely
read Godey’s Lady’s Book, who wanted a national Day
of Thanks, and had been publishing a Thanksgiving issue each
November beginning in 1846. President Franklin Roosevelt officially
set the date for Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November
in 1939, which was formalized by Congressional approval two
one more myth to shatter: The day after Thanksgiving actually
is not the busiest shopping day of the year. This doesn’t
mean you’ll want to saunter down to Crossgates on Friday.
It’ll be crazy, but it’ll be even crazier toward the end of
December. It’s known as “Black Friday” because it’s supposed
to be the day upon which retailers’ accounts move from the
red ink to the black. Lots of people browse, but don’t spend
as much money as they will later, making Black Friday only
the fifth-busiest shopping day of the year. The other four
typically fall on the two weekends before Christmas, hitting
the top on the last Saturday before Santa arrives.
well, refreshed with this knowledge, and shop lightly.