Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

Images and stories. How they do shape how we think of the world – what it is to us, even when the stories or images may not be true or real.

I’m not religious in any formal way, but darn it all if I can shake off the image in my mind that God is some big vague-looking guy hanging around way up high in the sky somewhere beyond the clouds – no matter how hard I try. In the same manner, just push my Thanksgiving Button and regardless of any intellectual knowledge of what it actually was to start with, up pops turkey and Pilgrims in black clothes with huge hats and buckles on their odd shoes.

I think then of the Shakers, who were of the same ilk. Then the Quakers who fit in there with all this. A song comes into my head somewhere along here and it refuses to stop. I have to hear it over and over again for goodness knows how long.

Simple Gifts

Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight

‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Somehow I’ve known that song since nursery school. I still love it.

But it’s not what I thought it was as a four-year old – there’s more to it that that. There’s the fact that usually people know the words as ’tis a gift’ rather than as ’tis the gift’. This adds a very different meaning to the song – one that is pointed and sharp. ‘The gift’ is one thing and one thing only, not open to interpretation by those who sang of it. It was the core point of the song that ‘the gift’ was something to be desired (and worked for and suffered for) – and this was the only ‘gift’ that should matter. And that gift of ecstasy, of bonding with their God, was sought through dance.

A beautiful simple song with a passion wrapped so quietly within it.

There are four Shakers left in the last Shaker Community existing in Sabbathday, Maine. Only four Shakers. Their religion is a fascinating one. But then it comes to mind that the ‘Pilgrims’ associated with our Thanksgiving holiday – with their funny hats and shoes with buckles – did not come here seeking turkeys (though of course turkeys are a good thing to have if one wants to continue living rather than dying of starvation in a new land where grocery stores don’t exist and where one has not been trained in the actually-rather-knowledgable-art of farming . . . ever tried to even keep a plant already grown in a pot alive if you don’t have a ‘green thumb’?) but from what I understand – unless I missed something – our Pilgrims came to these shores to escape religious persecution. They just plain didn’t fit in, where they came from, and it was time to move – that is, if they wanted to follow their deep passion, a passion which was not about what buckle to put on their shoes or what stuffing to serve with the turkey but rather a passion which centered around who they as human beings were and what their relationship was to their God and how they would live to express this.

Not small potatoes. That is, if one believes that in some way  human beings are more than a bag of bones tossed together with other ingredients to make an animal of sorts that ‘thinks’ and who has been lucky enough to have these opposable thumbs that help us build things of all sorts.


Funny, the shapes seeking for ‘higher truth’ can take.

Several years ago I visited a church located within several hours of where I live. The church is one where snake-handling is the core participatory ritual that brings its followers a sense that they have found a way to experience the higher truth that the Christian Bible offers. This is not the only church in the country of this sort – though it is against the law in many states for these churches to exist.

I remember sitting in a pew near the back taking it all in. The women did not cut their hair – it was against the church laws . . . and they wore dresses and stockings and were all covered up. The men did not seem to have any rules of dress but they were all very conservative. I remember looking at the people of the church, this church that existed in a small covert hollow of poverty along a grim winding road in a tiny sad broken-down converted house, and I remember my first reaction. It was a visceral one rather than an intellectual one. To be honest, an initial sense of repulsion rose from within me.

What those Pilgrims must have put up with, before coming to our shores! What any Pilgrim must put up with, really – if they have a strong path to follow that does not merge and support the usual way of things.

But thereby hangs the tale.

The faux-Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner is just the tip of it all. But oh, where it can lead to, just the stories of interest as one follows the winding path around it!

“Oh the Places You’ll Go!” as Dr. Seuss (who of course was Theodor Geisel) wrote.

Happy Pilgrim Day!

Maybe I’ll bake a cake and frost it black with a big silver buckle. I love that image.


No photo header today but instead something better: Jordi Busque is allowing me to link to his wonderful photos of the Mennonite in Bolivia.

More on ‘Simple Gifts’ at the American Music Preservation site.

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The countdown has begun. The plans are being discussed. The larders (that means cupboards and refrigerators for those of you who prefer modern speech) are being filled and filled and filled.

It’s the Day to Be Thankful. Or (more commonly) the Day to Get Stuffed Till You Hurt. Add a pinch of the usual dissonances that happen when family (sorry, Family) must gather from all their own homes to the Gathering Place of Holiday and what you have is Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day used to be the start of the Holiday Season. It was the date on which one could expect to have to start worrying about gifts, money, food, people, other people, parties, diets, party clothes, decorations, credit card debt, wrapping paper, ribbons and tape, red tape, lines at the stores, malls with parking lots the size of small cities, office gatherings filled with charming lechery from the least charming people who’d slugged down a bit too much punch (make that wine – punch is ‘out’), plans for alliances and non-alliances, health club memberships for the New Year when one would get Skinny and Gorgeous, and what stuffing would be served and with what on what day. Ham, Turkey, Roast Beef. We need large ones. We need Heirloom ones. (I always think of the turkey-pluckers on these days, their fingers chilled as those pinfeathers continue to stick even after the boiling water dipping machine and the tossing around like a whirlwind feather-removing machine have done their industrial jobs yet not well enough, not well enough for whatever-price per pound these babies are costing their investor-eaters).

We need Brussel Sprouts, and God Only Knows Why.

Thanksgiving is not the start of the holiday season anymore – Halloween holds that place of honor as the plans grow more startlingly consumptive (yes, two meanings to that word!) and well-caramelized.

We have a lot to be thankful for. But let’s get real. Are we really celebrating an American Traditional Thanksgiving at our tables with this meal of choice and habit?  Or . . . is it all a little trick played on us?

Could it be that a writer invented this holiday as we know it and celebrate it, and that somehow we have simply forgotten the real way of the holiday in an excess of the sort of jolly jingo-istic sentiment that seems to grab the masses by the throat heart, and with the soft prettiness of it all manages to serve up a paint-the-kitten-on-velvet-by-numbers kit for dinner?

One does like things to be nice nice. Nice nice is so nice.

Lets’ try this on for size, instead – for our Thanksgiving dinner:

First, wild turkey was never mentioned in Winslow’s account. It is probable that the large amounts of “fowl” brought back by four hunters were seasonal waterfowl such as duck or geese.

And if cranberries were served, they would have been used for their tartness or color, not the sweet sauce or relish so common today. In fact, it would be 50 more years before berries were boiled with sugar and used as an accompaniment to meat.

Potatoes weren’t part of the feast, either. Neither the sweet potato nor the white potato was yet available to colonists.

The presence of pumpkin pie appears to be a myth, too. The group may have eaten pumpkins and other squashes native to New England, but it is unlikely that they had the ingredients for pie crust – butter and wheat flour. Even if they had possessed butter and flour, the colonists hadn’t yet built an oven for baking.

“While we have been able to work out which modern dishes were not available in 1621, just what was served is a tougher nut to crack,” Ms. Curtin says.

A couple of guesses can be made from other passages in Winslow’s correspondence about the general diet at the time: lobsters, mussels, “sallet herbs,” white and red grapes, black and red plums, and flint corn.

That makes for a different sort of table, a bit.

Then how did this reality of a holiday which-is-not actually occur?

Until the early 1800s, Thanksgiving was considered to be a regional holiday celebrated solemnly through fasting and quiet reflection.

But the 19th century had its own Martha Stewart, and it didn’t take her long to turn New England fasting into national feasting. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the popular Godey’s Lady’s Book, stumbled upon Winslow’s passage and refused to let the historic day fade from the minds – or tables – of Americans. This established trendsetter filled her magazine with recipes and editorials about Thanksgiving.

It was also about this time – in 1854, to be exact – that Bradford’s history book of Plymouth Plantation resurfaced. The book increased interest in the Pilgrims, and Mrs. Hale and others latched onto the fact he mentioned that the colonists had killed wild turkeys during the autumn.

In her magazine Hale wrote appealing articles about roasted turkeys, savory stuffing, and pumpkin pies – all the foods that today’s holiday meals are likely to contain.

In the process, she created holiday “traditions” that share few similarities with the original feast in 1621.

In 1858, Hale petitioned the president of the United States to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday. She wrote: “Let this day, from this time forth, as long as our Banner of Stars floats on the breeze, be the grand Thanksgiving holiday of our nation, when the noise and tumult of worldliness may be exchanged for the length of the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart.”

Five years later, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

“[Hale’s] depiction is wrong much more often than it’s right,” says Nancy Brennan, president of Plimoth Plantation.

So. Is it Turkey Day or is it not? I’d say it definitely is Turkey Day in some ways. In more ways than one.

In the final analysis one must gather one’s turkeys where they may, as they batten the hatches momentarily against the onslaught of the rest of the ravaging hoolidays holidays to come along on the rampage in short shrift.

One of my favorite questions in the whole wide world is raised by all this. The question is: What is real?

When it looks really pretty and nice, it’s worth poking at to be sure it is true. Or even real.

Enjoy your bird no matter the feather! Even if you are quietly thankful, and choose to not stuff yourself or any bird, fish or fowl whatsoever. Eat what you like, for the day belongs to you – not  to some dead editor of a ladies magazine who lived a long time ago.

And if the bird pecks you, peck right back. It’s the holiday season, after all. And listen up, all you groaning-table and screaming football fans:

‘fasting and quiet reflection’

appears to be quite American after all.


Source of quoted material: The First Thanksgiving CS Monitor November 2002

From a different Thanksgiving day:

A Modern Woman’s Thanksgiving

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