Thanksgiving. You know, the day of gluttony, football, and family that is sandwiched between Halloween (dressing up is fun) and Christmas (presents). I love this holiday because one of my favorite things to do is cook for people, the simple act of sharing my food with those I care about is my zen. I always enjoyed the time spent with the family, especially those you probably only saw once a year. That and the marathon of eating. Lol Anyway… I’m sure we have all heard the story of the Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing in a feast of the fall harvest; but how did we get to a turkey, a Macy’s parade, and football? Gather around, children. I am here to tell you a tale — of the Day of Thanks.
We begin in the ancient times of Egypt, Greece, and Rome where festivals were held to celebrate the bounty of the fall harvest and pay tribute to their gods. Thanksgiving also bears a resemblance to the ancient Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Sukkot is a weeklong Jewish holiday that comes five days after Yom Kippur. Also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths, Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest and commemorates the miraculous protection God provided for the children of Israel when they left Egypt.
As civilizations began to grow and Europe evolved to explore the globe, new celebrations found their way across the Atlantic. While we have been told in the U.S. of the Pilgrims and the native tribe of Wampanoag at Plymouth Rock in 1621, there is evidence that it was not the first Thanksgiving in North America. Some claim the first was in Canada; and others that the first was in St. Augustine, FL in 1565 when the Spanish explorers invited the local Timucua tribe to dinner after holding mass to thank God for a safe arrival. Additionally, native tribes have been celebrating the fall harvest long before the Europeans arrived on North American soil. In fact, some Native Americans have taken issue with how the story of Thanksgiving is portrayed to the American people, especially school-aged children. Since 1970, protesters have gathered on the day designated as Thanksgiving at the top of Cole’s Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, to commemorate a “National Day of Mourning.” Similar events are held in other parts of the country.
Now that we know the story is embellished, what about the rest? Well, it turns out that turkey was not on the menu along with some other American favorites. The main protein that was abundant during the late 16th and early 17th centuries in New England (even Florida and Canada) was –seafood! The native tribes often hunted deer, collected mussels, trapped lobster, caught bass, and harvested crops of corn and pumpkin. Pumpkin Pie didn’t even make it to the table until the 18th century as sugar stores were wiped out during the trek to the New World.
In fact, during the time between the Pilgrims and Independence, days of thanks were celebrations to commemorate victories in battle. The first American President, George Washington, held a Thanksgiving after the Battle of Saratoga during the Revolutionary War to help the people express gratitude for the happy conclusion of the war. However, Thomas Jefferson refused to acknowledge any Thanksgiving festival because “endorsing such celebrations as a president would amount to state-sponsored religious worship”. It wasn’t until a persistent author, Sarah Jospeha Hale, of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” did we celebrate Thanksgiving as a nation on the same day. Another reason to like Abraham Lincoln as he made it official in 1863.
As for the other aspects of our American tradition, the first football game held on Thanksgiving was the college Championship game in 1876 (just 13 years after it became a holiday) between Yale and Princeton. For the record, Yale won the game. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924, promising “magnificent floats” , bands and an “animal circus”. It was 1927 when the first oversized balloons were added to the parade. They featured Felix the Cat and other inflated animals. While I personally don’t find the appeal of watching a parade on television, my family (mother, brother, sister, stepmother) really enjoy watching it every year. For them it marks the start of the day: Macy’s parade and coffee with coffee cake (usually Entemann’s), my sister starts to make the stuffed celery my grandfather made, my brother brings out the shrimp cocktail (idk, it’s a thing), and my mom starts the turkey. Then, it’s football and more eating… as it should be.
I hope you enjoyed my tale of Thanksgiving. Stay tuned! I will be sharing some family and local traditions, awesome side swaps, and recipes for the main course (which might not be turkey) throughout the month. Be on the lookout for my Favorite Kitchen Tools Guide just in time for Black Friday shopping. Warmest Regards!