I gave up eating turkey the year I was about 5 or 6 when my pet, Tommy the Turkey, became the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinner table. Of course, the same was true when Porky the Pig appeared on the breakfast table, but time and tradition mellow many steadfast opinions and over the years I've eaten my share of both.
All across the United States this week, our minds are on Thanksgiving dinner. Families gather, tables are laden, tales are told, memories are made, pictures are taken, thanks are given and our traditions continue for another year. It wasn't always like this; in fact, Thanksgiving is celebrated at other times with other foods and different traditions all over the world. The one thing all Thanksgivings have in common is that they have always been the celebration following a successful fall harvest.
The interesting thing about this holiday is that it spans oceans and it spans millennia, it spans cultures and it spans religions. For hundreds of years the Jewish culture has celebrated Sukkot, a thanksgiving festival commemorating the 40 years the children of Israel wandered the desert as well as giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans paid tribute to their various gods during joyous festivals of thanks after their fall harvests. And here in our country the Native Americans celebrated fall harvests with feasts, games and dances long before the pilgrims or any other foreigners set foot on our shores. With the exception of our Native Americans, I doubt very much if any of those ancient cultures celebrated with a turkey as a centerpiece.
So when did the turkey enter the festivities? In what would eventually become Florida in 1598, I'm sure those weary Europeans who arrived by water happily gave thanks for being on dry land. What they ate is anybody's guess, but most likely it would have been fish of the sea and fowl of the air since they both would have been abundant.
In 1621 the founders of the Plymouth Colony held a three day feast following the Pilgrims' first corn harvest. For the celebration Governor Bradford sent four men to hunt birds and the Wampanoag Indians contributed five deer. There were 53 colonists and 90 Wampanoag who attended the event. They could have had swan, goose, duck, shellfish, and lobster, as well as turkey, and no doubt they had corn, but since they had no sugar available after having traveled such long distances by water, it's almost a certainty they had no pumpkin pies. Pumpkin, maybe, but with no sugar, no pies. They did however have various spices provided by the Native Americans and no doubt they had honey, so perhaps they enjoyed a few desserts.
In the midst of the Civil War in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a holiday but it wasn't until 1941 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that Thanksgiving would fall on the fourth Thursday in November. I suppose for the early settlers on the northeast coast, wild turkeys were abundant and I suppose our tradition began there. I've always thought corn should be the main feature of every Thanksgiving dinner; after all, it was our ancestors' first successful harvest. And besides, nobody makes pets of -- or gives names to -- ears of corn.
We all come from a wide assortment of ancestors, cultures, beliefs and traditions. We don't know who celebrated the very first Thanksgiving nor can we truly say when or where it was, but I can tell you this: In our hearts, for every moment of every day, let us all be thankful.
(Photos of corn and pumpkins courtesy of Wiki: embedded links within photos.)