This archived article was written by: CJ Evans
Everyone loves Thanksgiving, except some Native Americans, wellness consultants and people disowned by their families. But which Thanksgiving do you celebrate? The one you learned in school? Or — BOOM! The one where all your illusions are stripped from your screaming husk in the burning light of truth you thought you wanted?
I’m glad you’re still here. Really, it wouldn’t be the same without you. Now throw on your protective helmet, because you’re about to get sacked in the Knowledge Bowl.
#3) Pilgrims didn’t celebrate the First Thanksgiving
The Pilgrim Fathers at the Plymouth Feast in 1621 weren’t Puritans. They were Brownist Separatists who suffered religious persecution because their church taught that they should annoy the hell out of their neighbors. They sneaked away to Amsterdam, only to discover it contained Dutch people, so they sailed to Massachusetts. They landed at Plymouth Rock*, saving it to later land on Malcolm X. *Except that probably didn’t happen either.
The rest of the story you know: they sailed into Squanto, borrowed some food from the Wampanoag tribe and when their crops came up, it was praise the lord and pass the turkey.
Too bad for your school play that Spanish explorers in the Texas panhandle held the first Thanksgiving back in 1541 to thank God for the chance to do something before the Englishmen.
What Happened: A few years after that dubious first Thanksgiving came the ascent of Philip II, king of pajamas, and also Spain.
In 1564, some French Huguenots celebrated their thanksgiving for safe landing, even if it was in Florida. These colonists honored King Charles by naming their settlement “Fort Caroline.” Oh, France! Sometimes you are too French for your own good. This was one of those times.
Spain heard about the gender-bending fort and said, “Thees weel no do!” while twirling its waxed mustache. Philip was busily inquiring the crap out of non-Catholics back in Spain, and decided he couldn’t have anyone teaching Native Americans the wrong way to cower before God. (Historically, Catholicism and brutality are two ideas Spain has a hard time relinquishing, or even distinguishing.) When Darth Vader, Admiral Pedro Menendez, landed in Florida, he threw his own party of thanks — unfortunately for the French, this was the kind where the pinatas are Protestants.
Amidst La Inquisicion Dos: La Bugalu Electrica, Menendez founded St. Augustine and held yet another thanksgiving with the native Timicuans, meaning the Spaniards can even claim the first cross-cultural Thanksgiving.
Why don’t we celebrate that feast of thanks instead of the one that happened years later up north? In addition to the obvious fact that none of those people’s offspring ever got elected president, they dined on bean soup. That’s an even sadder Thanksgiving meal than a Hungry Man dinner served to an elderly widower whose children don’t visit the nursing home anymore.
America was officially settled by the English, so that’s whose day of thanks they celebrate today, right?
#2. The first Plymouth feast was not a Thanksgiving
Still, you can draw a straight line from our holiday back to the minimally murderous 1621 feast in Plymouth: turkey, a little ale or some form of alcohol and the sharing of a meal likely to break into a fight. All they left out was tracing “hand-turkeys” on construction paper.
The only catch is they didn’t think they were having a Thanksgiving. And they should know. As you might have noticed in the Florida example, you couldn’t turn around in those days without running into a feast of thanks. It was kind of an official thing, and the Plymouth settlers had one every week — presumably giving thanks that their blood was recovered from scurvy, but not yet healthy enough to be appetizing to malaria carrying mosquitoes. The point is, the 1621 shindig American traditions recreate and tell stories about on Thanksgiving was not one of them. It was a harvest festival.
What really happened: Of all the official thanks those grateful fauns gave, this was not one of them — replace the prayer and contemplation with gut-busting portions and camaraderie. The Pilgrims just cleared their first crops, meaning they could get off the Wampanoag welfare program. They invited their benefactors to party with them, and good times in America!
It turns out the gluttony part is the only thing our Thanksgiving got right. In fact, if you were to go back in time to the meal we’re supposedly recreating, and asked one of the settlers how their Thanksgiving was going, they’d think you were being a buzz kill. It would be like your ancestors coming back to a college football tailgate, and asking us how we were enjoying keeping holy the Sabbath. Thanksgiving was every freaking Sunday. The harvest festival was their one chance to forget about being thankful, and just eat and drink their faces off. The idea that you would show thanks while doing that would have been completely baffling to them. But that’s just because they didn’t know how thankful we could be for pie.
#1. Pork is the Traditional Thanksgiving Feast.
As early as whatever century Alexander Q. Hamilton was president, he was ordering colonists to ingest copious amounts of turkey in a bizarre medical experiment, proclaiming, “No Citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” However, this may have been a feint to convince Aaron Burr he didn’t give a damn what happened to Burr’s turkey hostages.
The weird thing is, the first dish to emerge as a traditional Thanksgiving entree was pork ribs, not turkey.
What happened: Refrigeration. You could pretty much get a turkey all year-round, but if there’s a universal truth to humanity, it’s that if you come at pork with a butcher’s knife, pork comes at you harder with trichinosis.
Unlike turkey, which could feed a hard-working farm family of 10 at one feast (or John Madden at brunch), a pig takes a lot of eating. Who wants to eat all their bacon for the year on one day? Late autumn was the best time to butcher because the pig had fattened up for winter, and the whole world was an icebox.
Besides, you’ve got to eat special. Hang out in the forest for 10 minutes and a turkey will pick a fight with you because it stupidly thinks it’s still a dinosaur. Eating the same thing you always do on your big feast day? That’s like a wedding night where nobody hops in the sex-swing. But now we get pork all year-round, families are smaller, and it’s turkey that’s a pain (hey, it’s a big bird.)
By 1857, turkey had become a traditional part of Thanksgiving dinner … but only in New England, where tight-fisted Yankees will suppress any smile if it saves a dollar. Of course, traditional Thanksgiving feasts vary by your locale and culture. A San Franciscan may eat dungeness crab, a resident of Maine might hunt venison because he’s in a Live-Action Role Playing club, while a vegetarian will swallow tofurkey and his own hollow arguments that it really does taste just as good.
The important thing is that the idea of Thanksgiving — throwing an arm around your loved ones, busting a gut and appreciating both — is still the truth. The best way we can honor that idea is to spread it around in practice. This season, give your fellow man something to be thankful for.