2010-11-25 / Sam Bari

The truth about Turkey Day

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

Anyone who studied American history is well aware that the celebration of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 came close to being a total disaster. Had it not been for a few benevolent North American Indians who felt sorry for them, the Pilgrims would have dined on a few dried up vegetables and an undernourished goose.

As the story goes, an educated, English-speaking member of the Patuxet tribe saved the Pilgrims from starving to death. His name was Squanto.

During their first few months in America, the Pilgrims lost nearly half of their 102 members to infectious diseases.

A few died from doing stupid things like shooting at the locals who tried to stop by and offer their hospitality. Squanto intervened and made their chief, whose name was Massasoit, understand that the Pilgrims were not that bright, and didn’t really mean any harm.

I suppose the Pilgrims had watched too many cowboy and Indian movies and weren’t aware that a little diplomacy could go a long way.

Anyway, the Pilgrims invited Squanto and a few of his friends to a little get-together to celebrate the harvest and show appreciation for their helping them.

Word got out that a party was in the making and Chief Massasoit decided to drop by with 90 of his closest friends and join the celebration.

When Massasoit saw the pathetic table laid out by the Pilgrims, he sent his braves out to hunt for some decent food. They allegedly returned with deer, fish, pheasants, wild turkeys, storebaked pumpkin pies, and candied yams smothered in Marshmallow Fluff.

They were probably working on inventing Stove Top stuffing, but they most likely had cranberry sauce and mincemeat pie. I assure you, however, that tofu turkey was not included in the menu at this three-day bash.

If the history books had been written correctly, they would have noted that the Pilgrims threw the party to fit in with the customs of their local hosts. The natives, who were spiritual people, had a long established tradition of celebrating the harvest by giving thanks for a successful growing season.

So, to set the record straight, Thanksgiving is a North American Indian celebration. The Pilgrims just borrowed the name to try and gain acceptance by their neighbors, who they mostly feared.

After the first celebration, there was not another “Thanksgiving” celebration by white people of European descent for more than 200 years. Then it was celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, and it wasn’t a national holiday.

A century later, Franklin Delano Roosevelt established Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be celebrated on the third Thursday of November. The economy was still reeling from the great depression and Roosevelt thought it would give retailers an extra week to promote conspicuous consumption and extravagant spending for Christmas.

It was his version of kickstarting the economy with an incentive plan that didn’t require government funding.

Somehow, during the next few years, the Thanksgiving celebration evolved again – this time, for the worst. It became the last supper before dreaded “Black Friday,” the official kickoff for the shopping season, loosely disguised as the “Holidays.”

The retailers saw this as a really big deal, so there was a frantic scramble to establish some rules to give “Thanksgiving” credibility.

The details are sketchy, but apparently the turkey farmers of America got together and laid claim to the turkey being the traditional main course of choice for this overly hyped, so-called “American” celebration. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Wild turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving, but pheasant was much preferred, and venison was allegedly the main course. The domestic turkeys we eat today were not even available at the time.

The cattle people were not about to allow the turkey growers to take center stage without a fight, and the pig farmers also wanted a piece of the action. They compromised slightly, and people today generally accept that turkey, roast beef, or ham, are acceptable fare as the centerpiece for most Thanksgiving menus.

How tofu turkey ever got into the picture is beyond my realm of comprehension.

So, in the finest of American tradition, I encourage everyone to “carb up” at the last supper before camping out at Walmart and other delightful places for the opening of the retail doors on Black Friday morning.

There is no better way to celebrate the commercial extravaganza called “The Holidays,” in a system we can’t understand.

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