November 27th, 2014

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The Real First Thanksgivng … Or Not

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


Thanksgiving in America continues to be one of the most traditional holidays. It still features the original four hundred year old activities of overeating, football, and complaining about Black Friday.

In the Hunter household, as in all of Indiana and much of the world that’s not outside this country, we battle the overeating. How? By serving food that the rest of the year we hate. Stuffing stuff. Cranberry things. Pumpkin anything. It was good enough for the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, who the Pilgrims politely invited to share a meal in the new home they’d just stolen from the Wampanoag. The Indians brought a housewarming gift of deer, mostly because they didn’t want to eat cranberries or pumpkin.

But what was actually served at that original celebration? And did they really all sit down at long tables outside, in New England, in November? That’s a recipe for a nice heaping helping of frostbite.

The first Thanksgiving was a three day event, leaving one day each for the meal, football, and Black Friday shopping. The Pilgrims were naturally dismayed to discover no mall or Wal-Mart in sight. Rumor had it there was a Target down the road, but both the trip and the name were a bit more dangerous at the time. They compensated by throwing another feast that third day, during which they discussed the football.

Governor William Bradford sent four men on a fowling mission beforehand. We don’t know for sure what they brought back, but it might have been turkey. It also might have been ducks, geese, or swans, which explains the song they invented about the meal and the entertainment. If it hadn’t taken so much time to memorize it, the song would have been “The Twelve Days of Thanksgiving”. That would have turned our holiday world upside down.

Why are game birds called “fowl”? Because they had no refrigeration. It was a warning: “Eat it fast, before it’s fowl!”

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