River City Jules: Thanksgiving, then and now

November 19, 2012


Like many of you, I am very much looking forward to a feast of an obnoxiously delicious magnitude Thursday, mine prepared by my favorite brother-in-law.

The road to the Thanksgiving banquet, though, has taken much longer and has been far more treacherous than brining a turkey, beginning in …

September of 1620, when 102 travelers set sail aboard the Mayflower from Plymouth, England. Because the generator had not yet been invented, along with plumbing and the Internet, passengers were not able to shower or post pictures of the 66-day cruise onto Instagram for their friends back home to see.

The ship docked in what we now call Plymouth, Mass. Most all of the passengers opted to spend the winter aboard the ship. There was disease and malnutrition, and the turn-down service was terrible, but the ship’s insulation proved far superior to land accommodations.

Only half of the passengers survived. Tired of playing bingo on the promenade deck, they moved ashore in the spring and vowed their next cruise would involve margaritas.

Squanto, a member of the Patuxet tribe, kindly spent that spring and summer teaching his new fellow land-dwellers how to farm. That fall, the settlers enjoyed their first harvest.

Thankful to 1) be alive and 2) have anything at all to eat, the early settlers, joined by their new Native American allies, sat down in November 1621 for what is widely regarded as the first Thanksgiving feast.

They likely did not have pumpkin pie, as they did not have any sugar. Nonetheless, they were thankful to be together. So if someone, like maybe your sister-in-law, ever overcooks the pie crust, take a cue from the first Thanksgiving and just let it go.

As our nation grew, a number of celebrations of Thanksgiving were held over the decades.

Writer Sarah Joseph Hale petitioned for 36 years to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Her persistence paid off when, in 1863, President Lincoln agreed to her request. President Franklin Roosevelt then moved the date up as the fourth (rather than the last) Thursday in November — and I am not making this part up — in an effort to increase pre-holiday retail sales during the Great Depression.

Alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving meal popped up in 1962 with the invention of instant mashed potatoes and in 1995, when the first Tofurky hit grocery store freezers.

Personally, the holiday was enhanced for me in 2006, when my sister did our family a tremendous service by marrying a man who not only brings our family joy but every year prepares a turkey so tender it melts in our mouths. And he never complains about the pie.

Whatever your reason to be thankful, and I hope you have many, may it sustain you throughout the new year.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.