Sandwiched somewhere between Halloween and Christmas is the “un” holiday of Thanksgiving. As we know all too well, the true meaning of holidays has given way to the all-mighty dollar.
This year I was late in picking up our Halloween candy. I went in the local dollar store about a week before fright night and some clerks were trying to consolidate the Halloween costumes, decorations and candy into one corner while the rest of the clerks were immediately filling the vacated shelves with Christmas items. Seriously! Did we skip the whole Thanksgiving season completely this year.
What a wonderful holiday Thanksgiving is in its own right. When you think about it, it can actually be good medicine for the soul. So many times we focus on what is wrong with our lives and what we don’t have instead of taking stock and being thankful for all the blessings we do have. I would be willing to wager that everyone, if they are truly honest with themselves, has more positive things in their lives than negative.
Halloween is always October 31 and Christmas is December 25 but Thanksgiving doesn’t even have its own date, but is always celebrated (and I use that term celebrated loosely) on the fourth Thursday of November. Abraham Lincoln made it an official holiday in 1863, to be observed on the last Thursday in November. In 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt moved it up a week to lengthen the Christmas shopping season. Imagine that, even in 1939 it was falling victim to the dollar and they didn’t even have Black Friday then!
Even though this new date was short-lived, Congress made Thanksgiving an official holiday no longer requiring a presidential decree in 1941 and set it as the fourth Thursday in November, it has remained tied to the Christmas shopping season.
Even history has not been kind to this holiday. When we eat the traditional menu of turkey, mashed potatoes and pie, we are not keeping with the foods of the original Thanksgiving. When the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians had the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 their meal largely consisted of venison, corn, root vegetables (not potatoes), ducks, geese and seafood. Turkey, the number one food of the holiday probably wasn’t even on their menu.
We know these facts, thanks to Edward Winslow, a Pilgrim journalist who chronicled the events of the first Thanksgiving. Whether mashed or baked, white or sweet, there were no potatoes at the first meal because the Spanish first encountered them in South America in 1570 and then introduced them to Europe. They did not become popular until years later and never came over on the Mayflower.
Corn wasn’t eaten as we know it now. Instead it was ground into corn meal and made into a mush and served with molasses. Onions, beans, cabbage and carrots were abundant and were probably made into a stew. Cranberry sauce would have required sugar which wasn’t generally available and they didn’t have access to butter or wheat flour until some 50 years later so there were no flaky pie crusts and pies.
The Indians brought five deer as gifts to the first meal so we know there was plenty of venison. Although turkeys were prevalent in the day, they didn't make it to the first Thanksgiving meal. One thing for sure, the early settlers probably didn’t have the drowsiness associated with eating turkey. The culprit here is tryptophan, an amino acid found in the fowl. Eating turkey by itself won’t make you hankering for a nap, it is when it is combined with the pumpkin pie and other carbo-rich desserts that tryptophan can enter the brain and make you want to snooze.
I keep talking about the first Thanksgiving but, technically, the Pilgrims’ and Indians’ feast in 1621 wasn’t the first at all. Harvest celebrations had been practiced in Europe and thanksgiving ceremonies were already a part of Native American culture. It was, however, the first combined celebration between the two groups.
By the way, the first celebration lasted three days instead of one. Many Americans do get a four-day Thanksgiving holiday but much of that is used to hit the stores for early Christmas shopping deals.
Since when did Black Friday get so out-of-hand? When I was growing up it was usually a time when the guys would go hunting and the women would go shopping. Today it has emerged into an all-out cut throat ploy to get the American dollars. It used to start early Friday mornings, not people camping out in front of stores starting Thanksgiving day (or before) to be first in line for some large-dollar item sold at a ridiculously low price when the store only has a few of the items on hand. People have been pushed out of the way, items have been grabbed from shopping carts and actual fights have started over items. Yep, on Thursday we gorge ourselves and give thanks for what we have and then Friday we turn into shopping monsters. Is this what Thanksgiving has become?
The whole idea of Christmas shopping has lost the true meaning. Instead of giving someone you care about a gift from the heart it has come down to being able to afford (or not in most cases) the biggest, brightest, shiniest gift. If that is not bad enough, gift cards have replaced actually buying a gift. OK, I am guilty as charged as I resort to the easy way out too. But, are we pushed into this scenario because the season has become so commercialized, so busy, so rushed that we just push through any way we can to check the tasks off our list.
We need to get back to the true reason for our seasons and celebrate the true meaning of why we celebrate in the first place. Let’s start with taking back Thanksgiving this year for what it was truly meant to be.