We have a tradition here in the conTIMplating home that every Christmas before bowing to the idol of excessive consumption, we read the story of The First Christmas and revel in all of its bell-jingling yuletide merriness. But never before our November gluttonous ode to gratitude have we sat down and reminded ourselves of The First Thanksgiving. So by golly, this year I am going to use the expression ‘by golly’ more often and do something about it. And you can too! Simply gather about the victual-laden tabletop, get out your various electronic devices that are out anyway, and read aloud to one another in your best Charlton Heston voice this,
The First conTIMplating Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown
As we know, the Thanksgiving story all started with the Pilgrims. I have often conTIMplated why the word ‘pilgrim’ has stuck to these Separatists…why not Travelers or Wayfarers or Illegal Immigrants? I’m pretty sure John Wayne had something to do with it.
If my childhood memory serves me right, the Pilgrims were a group of Calvinists who wore funny hats made from black and white construction paper. They were persecuted in England by Queen Elizabeth and her successor, King James for preferring the NIV. So they fled each with their two lips to Holland and eventually under further eco-politico-religious pressure, left for America aboard the ships Mayflower and Speedwell in search of the freedom to worship and burn witches as they pleased. Turns out however, that the Speedwell should have been named the Speednot-so-well as it had to turn back due to its tendency to sink. In a fit of floriated taunting, those aboard the Mayflower referred to the Speedwell as its sister ship, the Pansy and continued. (Thus the Speedwell lost its place in history and subsequently, its italic status.)
Drawn by rumors of cheap real estate, the Mayflower headed for Manhattan but, much like an NBA expansion team, did not end up where intended. Instead the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, an Algonquin term that roughly translated means, ‘We could totally take Rhode Island if we wanted to’. An important note with later implications to U.S. political history is that before going ashore the Pilgrims got together and created the Mayflower Compact because anyone who has been to New England knows that parking is limited.
Once onshore, they were met by many Native Americans, whom they ignorantly called ‘American Indians’. The Mayflower lacked a decent diversity training program. Most notable was a lad called Squanto, which Captain Standish remarked would be a great name for their new compact; i.e. The Ford Squanto. (Instead, they settled on it being a Plymouth Colony.)
Squanto, a restored slave who spoke the King’s English complete with thees and thous, was instrumental in helping the Pilgrims survive the first winter in The New World by showing them how to read the King James’ Version, catch fish, and plant corn maizes. Squanto also served as a guide, interpreter and liaison for the Pilgrims before retiring as a lobbyist and making some serious bead. And like everyone in this story, he died. But not before taking part in The First Thanksgiving with all his oppressed minority European-American friends!
That first year (1621), the harvest was plentiful and the laborers were few so they had enough food to do some serious binge masticating. Unlike today’s Thanksgiving which lasts roughly from the end of the Lions game until Walmart opens, The First Thanksgiving was three whole days of feasting and hunting and partying like it was 1699.
In true American fashion the most popular question about The First Thanksgiving is also the most meaningless: What did they eat? While it is not known for sure that turkey was on the menu, it can be assumed because much like today, Massachusetts is full of turkeys and other foul critters, some of them of the bird variety. We do know that neither pumpkin pie nor potatoes were served, either because they hadn’t been introduced to New England or the letter p had not been discovered yet; I forget which. What we also know from diaries is that the natives brought plenty of venison, as they had not yet seen the movie Bambi.
Interestingly, it is also likely that they had seafood, namely mussels, as well as plenty of fruits and nuts. (These are three things we have at our family dinners all the time. Guess which one I am.) A popular dish among the Pilgrims was mussels with curds and it is very likely that this was served at The First Thanksgiving. In fact, Tradition says that Ben Franklin wanted to make the mussel our national bird. Sure it sounds good, but I don’t think Thanksgiving would have really taken off if Americans had to travel across the country so they can sit down with friends and family to a big pile of mussels with curds.
Local vegetables that probably appeared on the table include onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and carrots. And of course, corn maizes. It is not likely that peas were brought, however. Since the white man came to occupy their land with nary a payment, the natives withheld their peas—which is pretty much the true meaning of Thanksgiving: No justice, no peas.
After that first Thanksgiving, its celebration was about as consistent as an offense in the Detroit-Ann Arbor area. In other words, it didn’t score any points with the public until George Washington declared a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789. And even then, Thanksgiving didn’t become an annual tradition until the 19th century when writer Sarah Josepha Hale, famous for writing Mary Had a Little Lamb and keeping her middle name throughout adulthood, waged a 30-year campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. I guess suffrage and slavery were secondary issues. But…she was eventually successful and Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863 in an attempt to get that stupid poem out of his head. He died a year and a half later.
Don’t miss the sequel: Am I Racist if I Stay Home on Black Friday?