Thanksgiving: A time to give thanks for all good things in your life. To be honest, I do have many good things to reflect on in my life and to say thanks for. I’m glad that as an adult I can appreciate the sentiment of Thanksgiving in its proper context; a moment to be grateful for what you have. Over the years, however, the holiday has stood for different things, some of which I can only say ‘thank you very little’ for.
Growing up (start groaning now), I have to say that Thanksgiving was a source of family discord. To put it simply, my mom grew disenfranchised with the whole Thanksgiving holiday spirit. Now, it was all too easy for her to dismiss the festive occasion on religious grounds, being Jewish and all. And namely, that her descent from conservative to orthodox ‘religiocentrism’ led her to mock all things that didn’t smack of ‘schmaltz’ and ‘gefilte fish’. No, the truth was her gripe with Thanksgiving was due to only one fact: raw poultry made her nervous - and the larger the fowl, the more pronounced her anxiety.
I guess the thought of her bearing down like a gynecologist on an enormous gaping avian body cavity became more and more distasteful to her … so much so that it would actually trigger outrage in her, in later years. While chicken was a weekly affair in our house, it came precut in packages of legs or breasts. It was a very rare sight indeed to see a whole chicken roasting in our oven.
From my early youth, I do have vivid memories of a wonderful Thanksgiving spread with all the traditional gastronomical fixings to gorge on: roasted turkey with cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, candied yams or mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie. Yet, as the years went by my mom found a way to whittle down the menu after throwing her annual fit. It was turkey roll one year, deli sliced turkey breast the next. Eventually, n0t only did the ‘bird’ fly south, but it also took the candied yams and cornbread stuffing with it. Green beans sidled up to yellow squash and baked potatoes. And, while pumpkin pie would make an annual appearance, any talk of giblets would set off a screaming diatribe of religious indignation.
Eventually, any form of ‘thanksgiving meal’ just ceased to be. Thankfully, there was still football on TV; something to cherish and hold onto … as tightly as the handlers do the Snoopy balloon float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
As a parent myself, I can confess to having some misguided dealings with my own children. But let’s be honest, not wanting to look a turkey butt in the face is not justification enough to rob an American child of his gastronomic birthright.
Anyway, as I mentioned above, Thanksgiving for me today is a joyous affair and one I relish as a kickoff to the holiday season … even though more recently that honor has been extended to Halloween … which these days actually kicks off in September, as most anyone who walks into a local Walgreens can attest to. The day does give me pause to reflect gratefully on what I have for myself and to share with others. I take delight in preparing a feast I can share with my family, turkey and all. I painstakingly make my own corn bread stuffing from scratch and even bake my own pumpkin pie. And, at the end of my festive feast, I sit at the head of my own table and belch loudly with my pants undone.
Of course, I am sensitive to those who find fault with the holiday. Certainly, Thanksgiving in modern times has its detractors, and some for good reason. Native Americans are justified in their disdain for the holiday. The kindergarten story of Thanksgiving suggests that some Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn … well, at least one did. The new settlers returned the favor by giving them dysentery and raping their land.
In fact, I’d venture to say that the historical context of the holiday has been lost because ‘stories of old’ take a back seat to ‘what’s for dinner’. You can thank that on our short attention spans and our willingness to forget the past in favor of revionist history.
Thanksgiving in the twenty first century has become just another excuse to go out and shop for food and for Black Friday deals … which currently seem to begin a week earlier. In fact, most Americans probably don’t know ‘Frobisher’ from ‘Standish’. No, Edward Winslow did not play for the Cleveland Browns, and William Bradford was not a quarterback for the Los Angleles Rams … or is it St. Louis rams? Anyway, Abraham Lincoln was not the father of Thanksgiving, though he was instrumental in officially getting it on the calendar as a ‘national holiday (translation: day off … except for ‘Target‘ staff) back in 1863.
For that matter, while many consider Sarah Josepha Hale to be the mother of Thanksgiving, she was not a passenger on the Mayflower … and neither were Dolly Madison or Betty Crocker. Oh, and by the way, the Pilgrims did not eat Pumpkin Pie that first Thanksgiving; they ate boiled pumpkin and eel. They also didn’t land on Plymouth Rock … but that’s another story.
Despite this post’s title, I do want to give ‘thanks’ to all those who took the time to read this blog, as well as support it this past year. May your holiday season be gastronomical! Happy Thanksgiving to you and and yours, and of course, happy holidays, too!