"THANKSGIVING IS indeed the nearest thing we have to a national liturgy. From sea to shining sea, it calls forth a grand harmony of groaning boards...Yet, what must we think of a nation that, as the central motif of this gustatory concerto, insists upon a bird that has a name used chiefly as an insult!"
So pontificated Episcopal theologian Robert Farrar Capon way back in the 1980's when he was writing of Thanksgiving for the New York Times.
The dear old turkey has suffered the slings and arrows of many attackers, yet if the big bird is simply roasted properly, according to excellent recipes (and there are millions of them) the dish can be quite tasty bearing no resemblance to the horrible processed "turkey" we get offered every day in delicatessen sandwiches.
At any rate, people go on trying to let turkey-eating get out of control to make Thanksgiving "special" because they eat about 46,000,000 million turkeys each November. And approximately 80 percent or 31.2 million Americans travel by car, 4.7 million by plane, 33 million by train or bus for this holiday in order to get with family, hated in-laws, deserted cousins and dear friends. And along with turkeys, Americans also celebrate at this time the lowly cranberry, which is one of the rare fruits native to North America.
The above-mentioned Rev. Capon noted that Thanksgiving "is the only nationwide festival we have that still involves honest and considerable 'sit-down eating.' It is the perfect holiday, superior to all other federally finagled four-day weekends." He noted that "other holidays are...vacancies in time...Thanksgiving, by contrast, has not only a common theme but a common ritual as well...Thanksgiving is better even than Hanukkah, Christmas, Passover or Easter. Those festivities, while they involve unifying activities, are enjoyable chiefly in anticipation. The feasts themselves are letdowns. Advent, for instance, is fun: it has in Christmas, a future that brightens each dark December day. When Dec. 25 finally rolls around, it is simply a present with no future whatsoever to look forward to. Thanksgiving, however, has Advent, Hanukkah and Christmas waiting to burst upon us the minute the dishwasher is loaded."
I rather admire writer Bryan Miller's defense of the turkey. He says the bird "deserves respect for tradition's sake," noting that "more than any other food, it embodies the early American spirit; tireless effort against depressing odds, spiritual sustenance, season renewal." And, he adds the reminder that turkeys are close to red meat in protein content but only about 11 % fat, even less if the skin is not included. A serving has about 9 grams of fat and that is unsaturated.
So, chow down, you food purists!
SETIMENTALISTS believe the first Thanksgiving occurred about 1621 when early settlers shared a feast with native Indians. (I rather imagine they were more worried about the natives eating them than in what they had to eat with the natives.)
It wasn't until back in the 1820's that President Abraham Lincoln declared a Thursday in November "a national day of Thanksgiving." But it was the poetic magazine writer Sarah Josepha Hale who badgered and prodded throughout the 19th century for there to be a real Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday. (This woman also wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb.") Congress didn't really act on her suggestion until 1941, while it was busy with World War II.
I LOVE Thanksgiving because it's the one holiday one doesn't have to worry about proper gift-giving. You can offer to bring or make dessert, or grab a bottle of champagne, a bouquet of flowers, a box of candy and everybody thinks you're a prince.
I see that the late and sainted Russell Baker didn't think much of eating turkey on Thanksgiving. He said he rated turkey-eating "as just slightly better than the Miss America Pageant, but not quite as good as the Super Bowl and about on a par with the Academy Awards show."
I am happy that most of my friends have very good cooks, or they are very good cooks. They follow directions that make their turkeys come out perfectly. Add gravy, which I can make with one hand tied behind my back, and stuffing of almost any variety, plus cranberries - Viola! Perfection!
And what about the next day? Turkey with cranberry sauce, mayonnaise on white bread, whole wheat or rye. This is truly the reason to observe Thanksgiving. And I do mean -- the day after!
We have much to be thankful for even in perilous times and so I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and all the best part of the turkey. (I love the Pope's nose myself!) Thank heaven Ben Franklin didn't get his wish of making the turkey the national bird.
We'd be eating eagle!