My wife Brigitte is from Germany, so her family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving (they have Oktoberfest in September-October . . . this is when Europeans, Americans and Japanese all get together in Munich to eat, sing out of tune, and drink themselves stupid).   But she has since been here over 20 years, embraced our native custom with great enthusiasm, and loves to prepare for it.  Because this is such a focal point these days for all Americans, I’ve put together a few thoughts about this yearly holiday feast:

first thanksgiving with tom turkeyThe holiday we celebrate on the last Thursday in November is a way to commemorate the first thanksgiving festival that took place in Plymouth, MA in the fall of 1621. But was it really the FIRST?

Actually, it wasn’t.  Here’s the real scoop:


The Pilgrims who were nicknamed Puritans because, supposedly, their aim was to purify the English Church of all traces of Roman Catholicism.  So they had problems – mainly with the powers that be in England who disagreed with their views – and these problems are still evident in Northern Ireland toady.

Mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore, they hopped onto a ship called the Mayflower and set sail for this so-called “New World” in which they could live free from those mean, stupid people in England who didn’t resonate with their beliefs.  And after so many days at sea, they landed at a place they named Plymouth, Massachusetts and supposedly stepped on that big granite rock.

But after a while, even the Puritans became homesick for England . . . and in 1621 history tells us that the first Thanksgiving took place as a way to celebrate the English tradition having to do with the harvest festival.  They also wanted to give thanks for surviving the long voyage, the first year in this new land, and for luck in establishing friends with their neighbors, the Indians.

The First Thanksgiving?

Chief Massasoit, with 90 other Indians were invited to a dinner that lacked enough food.  When the Chief saw this, he  sent several of his men to go into the forest and hunt down more to eat.  They came back with five deer, and spent the next few days cooking said deer (and you thought turkey takes a long time?!)  Consequently, the celebrations lasted for three days, during which time they feasted on fowl, deer, Indian corn, pumpkins, beans, fish, clams, lobster . . . and of course, wild turkey!

But this story is not exactly true.  The 1621 Thanksgiving wasn’t the first real harvest celebration in the New World.  Perhaps it was the first with Indians invited, but the actual FIRST harvest festival held in North America took place 40 years earlier by English Settlers in Newfoundland.  Another festival was held 14 years prior to the Pilgrim’s feast, in Maine.  And just 3 years before  – in 1618 – a festival known as “Berkeley’s Hundred” was held in Virginia!

Who Is Tom Turkey?

Why – and How – did “Tom Turkey” get his name?

The origins of this nickname are a bit obscure.  Some say it was attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  Others say Benjamin Franklin threw out the name to endear Americans to what he proposed to be our national bird.  Old Ben didn’t like the eagle because he felt it had “bad morals,” stole food from other creatures, and had lice.  The turkey, he fondly pointed out, was more respectable, nicer, and a true native bird of North America.  Franklin was voted down, however, since others thought the eagle more in line with biblical references.  Since the turkey was never mentioned in the Bible, it got the boot.

On a side note, the custom of snapping the turkey’s wishbone to make a wish come true to the owner of the longest piece can be traced back to the before the Roman era.  Rome’s ancestors – the Etruscans – are believed to have started the tradition with the legs of local fowl.  When the Romans conquered England, they introduced it.  By the time the Pilgrims brought it to the New World, it had already been an established custom in England for years.

Many word origin experts think that wishbone-snapping started the common expression, “To get a lucky break.” The person who gets “the shorter end of the stick” will be the loser.

Comments?  I’d appreciate yours below!