One might ask how turkey came to be the centerpiece of the holiday meal, and that question bears one simple answer: the Pilgrims were from England. English cuisine has never been known for overwhelming the palette. When was the last time you watched Emeril and heard him say he was going to kick it up a notch by going British? Our English cousins may be known for their spicy wit and their saucy comebacks but not for culinary wonders. Also, why do you think it’s served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and yams? Very few people I know are clawing their way into the kitchen to get a mouthful of the naked bird. It’s very likely that the Native Americans who were invited to the first Thanksgiving feast could smell the turkey smell wafting through the air long before their arrival at the party – that’s why they brought some of their own food.
As many of you know, Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the turkey our national symbol rather than using the bald eagle. In denying Mr. Franklin his wish for a federal emblem, fate dealt us a mixed hand: had he succeeded, we would most assuredly be free from having to eat turkey on Thanksgiving; however, with that success would have come the embarrassing specter of standing before the world with a turkey, perhaps one of the dumbest birds to walk the earth, as the face of our nation. Nothing says “tough” like a turkey.
Along with the culinary challenges presented by Thanksgiving, this holiday carries with it many different meanings and memories. And they usually depend on the age of the person. Generally speaking, when one is young, the holiday means the sheer exhilaration of seeing cousins and other relatives. For the teens, it means having to face all those same relatives who pepper you with about a thousand questions about your latest choice of hairstyle or clothing; this grilling continues on through the end of puberty and into young adulthood, but the questions turn on college choice, career path, marriage, etc. And then once you’re married and have children of your own, Thanksgiving means traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to visit those same relatives you moved so far away to avoid – I mean, come on, it wouldn’t be fair (to you) for your kids to miss out on all the fun you had when you were their age.
It’s also odd that Thanksgiving conjures up so many memories – more so than many other holidays. For example, at the mere mention of the Thanksgiving holiday, someone in your immediate vicinity will suddenly break into a “I remember one year when . . .” story. However, you don’t get that same waxing of nostalgia for other holidays with statements like, “Hey, Phil, remember that wild Arbor Day back in 1986? Wow, the mayor’s cat was never the same since.”
Regardless of your memories of or feelings for the Thanksgiving holiday, I would recommend you reflect on one thing for which we should all feel grateful: Ben Franklin’s discovery of electricity – because without electricity, there would be no way to watch the football game from the comfort of your family room. And without the football game, you might be forced to make small talk with Aunt Fern about the removal of that hideous mole below her lip. Happy Thanksgiving!