Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Some unconventional thoughts on Thanksgiving

This weekend, most Americans will sit down with their families & friends around a turkey, mashed potatoes & pumpkin pie. The real Thanksgiving Dinner however was very different. From the History Channel: “it's safe to say the pilgrims weren't gobbling up pumpkin pie or playing with their mashed potatoes...the only two items that historians know for sure were on the menu are venison and wild fowl, which are mentioned in primary sources…Vegetable dishes, one of the main components of our modern celebration, didn't really play a large part in the feast mentality of the seventeenth century. Depending on the time of year, many vegetables weren't available to the colonists. The pilgrims probably didn't have pies or anything sweet at the harvest feast. They had brought some sugar with them on the Mayflower but by the time of the feast, the supply had dwindled. Also, they didn't have an oven so pies and cakes and breads were not possible at all. The food that was eaten at the harvest feast would have seemed fatty by 1990's standards, but it was probably more healthy for the pilgrims than it would be for people today. The colonists were more active and needed more protein.”

Some people are against celebrating Thanksgiving due to the way Native Americans were treated later as the United States was formed and expanded. While some who are vegetarian have a different menu – check out this letter in my university newspaper: “During the holiday season, many people will say no to factory farming and animal suffering by centering their holiday meals on something other than a tortured bird. Factory farming, as many now know, causes turkeys and many other animals to suffer greatly. Turkeys live their whole lives in confinement, undergo mutilations without anesthesia, are transported in extreme weather conditions and are abused by factory workers. If they survive all this, they are shackled by the legs at the slaughterhouse and go on to either be hacked to pieces or boiled alive. Such practices take place behind closed doors and are purposely unexposed to the public. This year, Americans can give thanks without contributing to the suffering and slaughter of billions of sentient beings. Contrary to the popular tradition of centering a Thanksgiving feast around a turkey, people all over the country are demanding more health-conscious and, of course, cruelty-free choices to replace the main course. Products such as Tofurky brand meatless Thanksgiving roast and UnTurkey brand meatless roast offer everything the traditional feasts did before plus more.”

Another tradition the day after Thanksgiving is to flock down to retail stores early in the morning for sales – I did that once & don’t ever want to do it again! It’s too early in the morning (6am), crowded with people and you end up spending more than you intended. Target stores has even arranged wake-up calls for people at 5am, so they can get up & shop!! The other annoying thing is the blast of Christmas commercials trying to get you to buy something or the other. The best commercial I have seen is through St. Jude Children’s Hospital asking “to give ‘Thanks’ for the healthy children in our lives, while ‘Giving’ to help children everywhere who are desperately ill and battling to stay alive. This national event was created to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital—the world’s epicenter of pediatric medical research that was founded by the late entertainer, Danny Thomas… St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is where doctors send their sickest patients and toughest cases. It is a place where pioneering research, revolutionary discoveries, and miracles happen every day. St. Jude is more than a cancer facility. We research, treat, and cure many types of childhood diseases, including sickle cell, AIDS, tuberculosis, influenza, and others.” They have been using famous personalities such as Robbie Williams and Jennifer Aniston to spread their message.

Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? I googled for some information and here is a site that captures the story as it goes: “The story of Thanksgiving is basically the story of the Pilgrims and their thankful community feast at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims, who set sail from Plymouth, England on a ship called the Mayflower on September 6, 1620, were fortune hunters, bound for the resourceful 'New World'. The Mayflower was a small ship crowded with men, women and children, besides the sailors on board. Aboard were passengers comprising the 'separatists', who called themselves the "Saints", and others, whom the separatists called the "Strangers". After land was sighted in November following 66 days of a lethal voyage, a meeting was held and an agreement of truce was worked out. It was called the Mayflower Compact. The agreement guaranteed equality among the members of the two groups. They merged together to be recognized as the "Pilgrims." They elected John Carver as their first governor. Although Pilgrims had first sighted the land off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, they did not settle until they arrived at a place called Plymouth. It was Captain John Smith who named the place after the English port-city in 1614 and had already settled there for over five years. And it was there that the Pilgrims finally decided to settle. Plymouth offered an excellent harbor and plenty of resources. The local Indians were also non-hostile.

But their happiness was short-lived. Ill-equipped to face the winter on this estranged place they were ravaged thoroughly. Somehow they were saved by a group of local Native Americans who befriended them and helped them with food. Soon the natives taught the settlers the technique to cultivate corns and grow native vegetables, and store them for hard days. By the next winter they had raised enough crops to keep them alive. The winter came and passed by without much harm. The settlers knew they had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate…However, the third year was real bad when the corns got damaged. Pilgrim Governor William Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer, and rain happened to follow soon. To celebrate - November 29th of that year was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. This date is believed to be the real beginning of the present Thanksgiving Day. Though the Thanksgiving Day is presently celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November. This date was set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 (approved by Congress in 1941). Earlier it was the last Thursday in November as was designated by the former President Abraham Lincoln. But sometimes the last Thursday would turn out to be the fifth Thursday of the month. This falls too close to the Christmas, leaving the businesses even less than a month's time to cope up with the two big festivals. Hence the change.”

Well, I will be joining my friends & family for a dinner on Saturday. Over the weekend, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is holding their conference in Minneapolis, and I will be attending. Their theme is “Our Youth, Our Family, Our Future.” I won’t be back to blog until Monday.

Happy Thanksgiving!