HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
November 20, 2006, Herald Journal

No tofu turkey

By IVAN RACONTEUR

The day that marks the beginning of the holiday season is nearly upon us.

In the US, a celebration near what is now Plymouth, Mass. is generally considered “the first Thanksgiving.”

The tradition is much older, however.

The ancient Greeks and Romans, and, in fact, many cultures around the globe, celebrated harvest festivals long before the first Europeans landed in North America.

The holiday has evolved quite a bit over the years.

On Nov. 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed a bill establishing the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving.

This change, moving Thanksgiving a week earlier, was made to appease retailers, who wanted a longer holiday shopping season.

The move enhanced one of the most important Thanksgiving traditions, the day-after-thanksgiving shopping frenzy.

People line up before dawn to stand in line and fight other shoppers for the best bargains.

People have been trampled in the resulting melee. The thankful spirit is soon replaced by the concept of every woman for herself.

Thanksgiving was originally a religious holiday, and a time for the devout to thank their creator.

It is still a day of prayer, with devoted fans across the country praying for their favorite team to win.

Football was not a part of the early Thanksgiving celebrations in this country, but sports of various kinds were part of many harvest festivals around the world.

The food served at the first Thanksgiving was likely much simpler than the foods that we have enjoyed in recent years.

Much of what we think of as “traditional” Thanksgiving food was either unknown or unavailable in the colonies.

Pumpkins were probably served in some form, but not in pies, since the ingredients for making pie crust were not available. It is also unlikely that whipped-cream in a handy aerosol can was on the Pilgrims’ table.

Cranberries would have been available, but certainly not in tins.

Turkeys may not have been on the menu for the colonists either.

They reportedly enjoyed a variety of fowl, which likely included ducks, geese, and maybe even swans. Turkeys may or may not have been on the list.

The colonists also enjoyed venison, which was a gift from their Native American guests (they called them Indians in those days).

In fact, it was only through the help and kindness of those Native Americans that the colonists were able to survive.

The colonists later expressed their thanks by trying to exterminate every Indian they met.

The Native Americans may be having the last laugh, though, since the descendents of those colonists now pay reparations in Indian casinos around the country, and this, for some, has become a new holiday tradition.

Thanksgiving is a time for families to gather in a spirit of warm fellowship, and cramming large groups of relatives together in small spaces leads some to partake of another kind of turkey, Wild Turkey (or other adult beverages) to help them cope with the togetherness.

Some say that the first Thanksgiving feast likely took place outdoors, since the colonists did not have a building large enough to house all of those who were present.

Those of us who live in northern climates can be thankful that this outdoor tradition did not last.

For colonists, the holiday feast was a celebration of the harvest in a challenging land.

Today, it is an excuse for uninhibited gluttony.

It provides a chance for people to abandon their fad diets and the struggle to follow a healthy regimen.

Thanksgiving is a no-holds-barred opportunity to try to eat a week’s worth of groceries in one sitting.

This is probably true for men more than for women, but in any case, loose britches, or at least belts that can be loosened, are recommended attire at the holiday table.

The Puritans were responsible for another Thanksgiving tradition that persisted for many years.

Men and women were often segregated in those early days.

This carried over into modern times, with women doing all of the work, while the menfolk gathered in the living room to watch sports, or went out for a game of football to improve their appetites.

Fortunately, progress has been made in recent years, and it is now OK for women to come out of the kitchen and join the guys.

It is also acceptable for guys to help with the cooking, although this is often confined to new methods of preparing turkeys, such as grilling and deep frying.

This is not because guys can’t cook, but there is safety in numbers, and to turn a guy loose in a kitchen full of stressed-out females is not a recipe for success.

Like many of our grand old holidays, Thanksgiving has come under increasing pressure lately from those who seek to take the fun out of life for everyone.

One group, that uses an acronym that stands for “people eating tasty animals,” wants everyone to follow the president’s example of “pardoning” a turkey at Thanksgiving.

Another group, the Adopt-a-Turkey Project, is in its 21st year of trying to convince people to sponsor or adopt turkeys to protect them during this dangerous season.

If the lunatic fringe has its way, Thanksgiving menus in the future may consist of tofu turkeys and other horrors.

However we choose to celebrate, we would do well to remember the spirit of the day, and take a moment to be thankful for what we have.

We should appreciate our family and our friends (even if they drive us a little bit crazy).

Despite our day-to-day frustrations and challenges, we need only look around to see that a lot of people are less fortunate than we are.

We should judge our quality of life by what we have, not by what we wish we had.

We should be thankful that we enjoy freedom in a world where many are oppressed, and abundance in a world where many have nothing.

We should greet each day with enthusiasm, humor, and hope.

But, please, no tofu turkey.