Monday, November 19, 2007

A Brief History of Thanksgiving

Hello internet friends! It is once again that solemn time of year when we gather with loved ones and offer a thanksgiving for a bountiful year. Or, if you're like me, you can sidetrack the boring parts, stuff your face, and watch Detroit host Green Bay (-3.5) and the Jets march into Dallas (-15) for the late game. You think I'm kidding, Myles Standish? The only funny thing about Thanksgiving is all people don't know about it. I will now attempt to set the record straight.

The first Thanksgiving was not invoked by those bastard New England Pilgrims in 1620 but by settlers at Berkeley Hundred, Virginia on December 4, 1619. Upon arrival to the New World they were ordered by their proprietors to immediately give thanks when they landed. The Pilgrims thought this was such a fabulous idea that they stole it as their own, much the same way the Patriots stole Randy Moss from the lowly Oakland Raiders for a 4th round draft pick. 

Today most school kids are taught that those New Englanders were the first to celebrate Thanksgiving with Squanto and his buddies, all eating turkey with yams and cranberry sauce out of a horn of plenty. But no, my friends! This is at best a public relations stunt and at worst a blatant lie. Those who survived the year ate venison right off the bone like a bunch of half-starved wild dogs, and elderly males of high standing were given a bowl of forged berries on the side, but no potatoes, which the Europeans considered poisonous.

The celebration was a success, becoming a boon to the fledgling greeting card industry. It continued in various forms for the next 150 years until politicians laid their grubby hands on it. Each new president proclaimed a Thanksgiving or Thanksgivings for various events. President Washington declared Thanksgiving for independence from England, President Adams for seizure of the East Coast from the savage native Americans, and President Jackson for the arrival of indoor plumbing to America. However Thanksgiving did not become an official holiday until 1863 when President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

In the words of our 16th President:

The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. That is, of course, if one chooses to overlook the incredible and incalculable slaughter from this Great Civil War. No doubt the heavenly hosts are still welcoming the honored dead from the fields of Gettysburg to the foot of the Almighty's eternal throne. May they rejoice at the alter of God forever, and be thankful. But I have foreseen a better day, a day in which families will gather and participate in a gluttonous ritual of massive consumption and wanton spectating. And then on the next day, their stomachs bloated from the harvest of the previous year, they will shop until they drop. God bless us all.

And so it went on this way until President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second-to-last Thursday in November. With the country still in the throes of the Great Depression Roosevelt thought it would give merchants an extra week to sell their goods before Christmas since it was considered bad form to advertise for Christmas before Thanksgiving. 23 states adopted the new policy, while 22 did not, and Texas decided to take both Thursdays as holidays off. In 1941 congress finally settled the matter, declaring that Thanksgiving should be on the fourth Thursday of November, which is usually the last Thursday of the month but less frequently the second-to-last. Roosevelt signed the new bill into law on November 26, 1941.

"Our great national nightmare is over," Roosevelt triumphantly declared. "Thanks to the the brave leadership of congress we can now put this entire Thanksgiving issue to rest. I see nothing but good times ahead. The year 1941 is almost out and we will surely get through December unscathed. I think we have much to be thankful for."

After World War Two the National Turkey Federation began presenting the President with one live turkey. The President would don a blue ceremonial robe with gold bells arranged around a tremendous hem, and, using a sacrificial knife, would slit the live turkey's throat upon the Rose Garden alter. This was to atone for the nation's sins from the previous year. Wiping the bloody knife down the President would then rejoice and declare Thanksgiving Day open to all!

In more recent times the live Turkey has been simply pardoned in accordance with executive powers. President George W. Bush found he enjoyed pardoning so much that in 2003 he began pardoning two turkeys. Both were then flown first class from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles to serve as Grand Marshals in Disney's annual Thanksgiving Day parade. This practice was abandoned a year later when one of the turkeys ran wild through downtown Anaheim and destroyed most of the city.

Even though its more pious observers would deny the validity of such a theory, it is indisputable that Thanksgiving has been constantly evolving over the last 400 years. Now every year we are introduced to a new mutation to include in our celebration. Today we happily incorporate not only the traditional assemblage with family and giving thanks over a meal with turkey but radical modern concepts like Black Friday, the NFL's Thanksgiving Classic, and John Madden's diabolical turducken animal. In the spirit of the original Thanksgiving, multi-culturalism and diversity remains, and each one is welcome to incorporate as many of the practices as he or she sees fit.

For me, it's all about the Tryptophan.

A happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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