Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Thanksgiving is the time where we all go off our diets, where we have to spend time with family that we may not like, and the time where someone is most likely to clog your toilet. It’s a magical time filled with food, football, and parades. Beyond those things, it’s a holiday dedicated to giving thanks for everything we have. The tradition of Thanksgiving goes back a few centuries.

While we all associate the story of the pilgrims as the first Thanksgiving, there are many who claim that the first Thanksgiving happened in Saint Augustine, Florida. The Spanish, after ousting the French Huguenots from the area, created the first permanent settlement in America. From scraps of documents from the period, historians have surmised that a sort of Thanksgiving feast occurred with Native Americans from the area in 1565.

That’s not what we all celebrate though. We all like to focus on the Pilgrims. But, is the story of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans that had a feast together accurate? Well, in a way yes…but in a lot of ways, no. The Pilgrim Thanksgiving wasn’t a friendly get together between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims with turkey and cranberry sauce. After fleeing persecution in Europe, the Pilgrims, a sect of the Puritans, landed in modern day Massachusetts; in a place they named Plymouth. Luckily for them, they had an OK relationship with the Wampanoag. They Pilgrims did make the assumption that they owned all the land in the area though, which probably didn’t go over well with the Wampanoag. Things smoothed over as the natives saw that the Pilgrims didn’t mean them any harm, and some decided to help the Pilgrims survive the rough winter. With the native’s help, the Pilgrims were able to yield a plentiful crop. This much is about true about the story we all heard in elementary school. Then it gets weird. The Pilgrims decided to have a big feast with games and everything to celebrate the great harvest they had. Some Pilgrims decided to show the Wampanoag how tough they were by going out into woods and starting some target practice. This caught the attention of the tribe and about 90 men came into the Pilgrim settlement with weapons ready. What the Pilgrims meant as a show of might backfired into almost starting a conflict. When the Wampanoags saw what was going on, they decided not to murder everyone and promptly joined the party…uninvited. Well, now the Pilgrims had way more mouths to feed and not enough food. The Wampanoags decided to chip in since they were creating a little bit of a bother for the Pilgrims and brought a few deer to help feed everyone. History only gives us one journal account from a Pilgrim describing the feast. This is all we really have to go on for any information about the first Thanksgiving. At the feast, they enjoyed fowl (which may or may not have included turkey), berries, various vegetables, venison, beans, squash, and maize.

It wasn’t called Thanksgiving from the get go either. For many after that, it was simply a harvest time feast. There was no set day to celebrate the day. The name Thanksgiving started being used in the 19th century for the day when puritans had a day of fasting and gave thanks. It wasn’t really that you couldn’t eat; it was that you were at church praying the whole time, so you couldn’t eat. The journal entry from the Pilgrims was lost until this time and with the knowledge, people started mixing the two together. Thanksgiving would be a day of great feasting, and giving thanks to God for all He has given us. Eventually, pumpkin pies and other Thanksgiving mainstays found their way into the meal. Turkeys were a popular main course for the feast as they were large birds that would yield lots of meat. Plus, they tasted delicious.

Like I said before, there wasn’t really a set day to celebrate Thanksgiving. People just had a harvest feast whenever they wanted, but usually in November. It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that the discussion of Thanksgiving being given a specific date was heard. Sarah Josepha Hale, a popular magazine editorial writer, started the campaign to make Thanksgiving an official holiday with a specific day. She felt that the holiday would bring the bitterly divided North and South together in solidarity to give thanks. She wrote senators, governors, and presidents, but no one really listened. The south began to see the holiday as a Yankee holiday, being pushed on them. They refused to celebrate the holiday, thus crushing any hope of a holiday bringing the north and south together. In the middle of the Civil War however, President Lincoln decided that the best thing to do for the people was to make Thanksgiving an American holiday, held on the last Thursday of November. Thanksgiving however, was not a national holiday until FDR’s presidency. He pushed to have Thanksgiving moved a week earlier so people had more time to spend on Christmas presents. He felt the best thing to do in the feeble economy was to give more time for the people to put money back into the businesses. This didn’t work however, as most didn’t like someone messing with what day they gave thanks. So, in 1939, some people celebrated Thanksgiving on the 19th, and some on the 26th. It was a mess. Congress finally decided to step in and make Thanksgiving a national holiday kept on the last Thursday of November. So, FDR’s blunder caused Thanksgiving to be made a national holiday, and the holiday that year was named Franksgiving. No joke.

In essence, the Thanksgiving tradition hasn’t changed much over the years. Some big changes however were the loosening of ties with religion. Thanksgiving has become a secular holiday; something for anybody to celebrate not matter what they believe in. Thanksgiving has gained a few things though. Starting in 1924, Macy’s department store has had a parade celebrating the holiday season. Supposedly started when patriotic immigrants wanted to show how thankful they were for their jobs, and they suggested to their employers to throw a parade. From the get-go, Macy’s had those character balloons. Always filled with helium, for a time they used to just let the balloons go at the end of the parade route. They figured that the balloons would flout around for a few days and eventually flout back down harmlessly to earth. This all ended in 1932 when a balloon was released and ended up hitting a passing airplane. The pilot was able to stay in the air, but the fear of death caused the act to stop from that moment on. Now, all the balloons are stored in an old tootsie roll factory in New Jersey. Many cities have their own Thanksgiving Day/Christmas Parade. We in Michigan have “America’s Thanksgiving Parade”, which I find to be the most notable. Balloons have been used every year in the parades besides during the Second World War, so they could be used to make tires and other stuff for the war effort.

Another tradition for Thanksgiving is Football. Whether you play it or watch it at the stadium or with your relatives at home, football is everywhere on Thanksgiving. Turkey Bowl games started almost as soon as football was invented in the 1870’s. People would go to their favorite college and watch their teams throw around actual pigskin. It wasn’t until 1934 when the Detroit Lions played the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving that a tradition started in the NFL. Except for the years of 1939-1944, the Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day. Lion’s fans have waited since 2003 to see the Lions actually win a Thanksgiving Day game. Other teams have been added to Thanksgiving Day games such as the Dallas Cowboys since the 70’s and various others since the mid-200’s.

Myth debunking time!

True or False?

1. There is tryptophan in turkey which makes you sleepy, so that’s why you are so tired after Thanksgiving Dinner.

Answer: False! It does have tryptophan, but a very small amount. You are tired from all the carbs that you ingested and all the stress of making and eating the meal.

2. The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest day to fly on a plane due to everyone trying to get to their relatives.

Answer: False! The day before thanksgiving is not even in the top 25. The highest varies every year, but is usually a Friday during June, July, or August.

3. The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest day for plumbers.

Answer: True! When you have a lot of people in your house, you tend to have a lot of people using the bathroom. Toilets get clogged and have to be fixed the next day by plumbers. Also, many people put things in the garbage disposal that aren’t supposed to go in there, such as rice, potato peels, and bones. This again, causes a plumber to show up to clean up after your stupidity.

Though a few things have changed about Thanksgiving, the meaning of it has never. It is a time to give thanks for everything we have been given over the past year and a time to spend with our families. Thanksgiving is a time to sit and watch a parade and some football and skim through all the black Friday ads in the paper. Hope you all have a very peaceful Thanksgiving.


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