Thanksgiving is, without a doubt, my favorite holiday as an adult. Don’t get me wrong, I love most holidays (see my previously written posts about my disdain for Valentine’s day and Halloween as the exceptions!) – but there’s something about Thanksgiving. I’m guessing it’s a combination of things – gathering of loved ones for a communal meal, knowing the “festive” season is about to start, and maybe even as a sort of farewell to the nice weather as we wait for the onslaught of winter.
I’m trying not to mourn how different everything is going to be this year – and instead focus on being thankful. Thankful that perhaps our country might be able to start healing after the turmoil of the election; thankful that even though the numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, the mortality rate is lower; the possibility of a vaccine; and more personally, that I’m fortunate to be able to spend the day with a small number of family and that technology exists so that we’ll all be able to see, talk to, and interact with family who can’t join us.
So what is Thanksgiving and why do we celebrate? The first Thanksgiving was a three-day affair! (I’m pretty sure I couldn’t continue to stuff myself with all the side dishes for three days. Oh wait, that’s what leftovers are for, isn’t it?) In November of 1621, celebrating the first corn harvests success, Governor William Bradford invited the neighboring indigenous allies to join them. Members of the Wampanoag tribe came bearing food, and they had so much bounty, they extended the feast!
There is no “proof” there was turkey at the first Thanksgiving, but there is a written account that said the settlers’ hunted “poultry”. While in this instance poultry included swan, of all things (I mean, a swan is a bird, so I’m assuming that falls into the “poultry” category. I’ll pass on the swan, thanks just the same.), it’s also possible they hunted wild turkey, quail, etc. They also had lobster, seal, and venison. And probably no dressing or cranberry sauce, those poor, poor folks.
We can thank writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale that Thanksgiving is a national holiday. For three decades she lobbied, advocating for Thanksgiving to help unify the Northern and Southern states amid gathering divisions (hmmm – maybe that will work this year, too?). Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln officially designated it as a holiday, and earned Ms. Hale the name “the Mother of Thanksgiving.” (She also wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.)
A Thanksgiving mix-up inspired the first TV dinners. In 1953, a Swanson employee accidentally ordered TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY TONS of turkeys! (I wonder how many tractor trailers it took to deliver all of those…) To deal with the excess, a salesman for Swanson named Gerry Thomas took inspiration from the prepared foods served on airplanes and came up with the idea of filling 5,000 aluminum trays with turkey, along with dressing, gravy, peas and sweet potatoes. The 98-cent meals were a hit!!
The Butterball Turkey Talk Line answers almost 100,000 calls each season! There’s now a 24-hour a day, 7 days a week text message service. And even a Butterball Skill for Amazon on Alexa! (“Alexa, ask Butterball what temperature my oven should be set?”) Some of the questions the turkey experts have fielded over the years include: a man found a turkey that had been in his father’s freezer since 1969 and wondered what the best way to cook a 30 year old bird was (the answer: don’t. Buy a fresher turkey.); a caller cut his turkey in half with his chainsaw, and wondered if the oil from the chain would adversely affect the turkey (I’m going to go out on a limb and say “yes”); and for the sake of making the house smell delicious for a longer period of time, a woman wanted to know if she could slow roast her turkey for 3 or 4 days (ummm, NO).
The United States isn’t the only country which has a designated holiday for giving thanks. Countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom also celebrate some version of being grateful for the harvest, family and friends.
This year, it might be a little harder to come up with a long list of gratitudes. It’s been a tough, tough year. We’re missing family. We’re still missing our euphemistic “normalcy”. If I’m going to be honest, it’s usually pretty easy for me to end the blog posts I write with a “feel good” ending, but not today. I don’t want to be trite; I don’t want to downplay the horrific tragedies that have plagued the world – but I do want to find my gratitude. It won’t be easy, and maybe it will be something as small as I’ll always be thankful for my family and friends, a cup of coffee and a good book. Also, stuffing. I’ll always be grateful for that.
Please everyone, have a safe, healthy Thanksgiving – love the ones you’re with and find your gratitude. Wash your hands, wear a mask, and take care of your mental health as well as your physical. Especially with the holidays coming up, reach out to someone if you’re struggling.
I’m still trying to picture what 260 tons of turkey looks like, as well.