February 7, 2023

Thanksgiving Day? Or really Turkey Day?

By John Guy LaPlante

It is both. Thanksgiving Day is what President Lincoln intended when he made it a national holiday to be observed on the fourth Thursday in November.

And Turkey Day it also is, though no president ever got that passed. The facts say so. We’ll sit down to some 42 million turkeys this Thursday.That’s close to one third of all turkeys we’ll buy this year.

Thanksgiving is not what the first English setters had in mind when they met with their friends the Wampanoag Indians and sat down to eat back in 1621 in Plimoth (now Plymouth, Mass). It was a harvest festival.  A celebration of their survival. About 90 Wampanoags and 50 English, the men outnumbering the women by far. They were fortunate to have made it through the first year. Doing so had been challenging to the extreme. The Wampanoags saved them with  their gardening and hunting skills.

If turkey was served, it was  just a thin and scrawny bird with little to gnaw on.

We’ve called it Thanksgiving Day for a bit more than 150 years,  No idea how the turkey came to be the essential meat. Thanksgiving Day — that has strong religious connotations, doesn’t it?  Christian connotations.  But for a great many, not any more. Americans of all beliefs and persuasions observe the day. Christians, of course, but also Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Chinese, native Americans, whatever, and of course agnostics and atheists.

In fact, what has come to matter most is the Thanksgiving dinner itself. The dinner, not the day. It’s the dinner that most of us look forward to. It’s sitting down with our loved ones at the laden table. Enjoying the turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry relish and so many other tasty dishes and finally the pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

Then with our hearts content and our tummies full, repairing to the living room and relaxing with our kin and friends. Maybe for the first time in a long time because of the constraints of work and distance. And nobody will mind if one or two nod off for a nice  nap.

That’s what Thanksgiving Day is all about now. That’s why Turkey Day might be a better name for it. But what it should be called, I believe, is National Family Day. That would emphasize the heart rather than the stomach.

My, how the fourth Thursday of November has changed.  The holiday is now also Super Football Day. For many it has been stretched to a four-day weekend. And of course for years it has also kicked off our four-week Christmas gift-buying frenzy.

And for the last few years, transmuted to the shopping super spree we call Black Friday. In fact, already Walmart is plugging pre-Black Friday (!) good deals online. And so is Amazon.  “Snap up the bargains right now! Just charge them to your credit / debit card!”
Not only Black Friday. Now Cyber Monday also!

Other retailers, big and small, are on the same wavelength. For many this all-out shopping is so critical that it decides what will make the whole year a $$$ bonanza or a bust.

In fact, Christmas, like Thanksgiving, also should be re-branded. For most folks it has little to do with Christ. It’s all about Santa Claus.

All this said, for millions, Thanksgiving does spark good feelings, good emotions. Happiness! Togetherness! Who can fault that?!

True especially  for older folks. It does for me. We become thankful for good health, or a good lifestyle, or good family and friends, or plain good luck. For some, thankful is the right word. And so is the word blessings. For others, maybe it’s not the right word. For them a better word for thankful might be appreciative, and for blessings, good fortune. That would be a great debate topic.

What I find myself thinking about in these final hours before Thanksgiving is people who mean a lot to me. Family, of course, and friends. Some who have passed on.  And some who are getting old like me.  And I find myself putting in calls to them. I want to hear their voice. I want to chat with them. I’ve already started, and I have more calls to make.

And I’m sure, after Thanksgiving, I’ll remember I forgot maybe Ted, or Theresa, and I’ll feel like kicking myself.  I’ve learned that strong, ongoing, lasting relationships are a core component of one’s personal success and happiness.

Over the years I’ve heard of this ancestor or that one who made it here to the United States from the old country. Who hasn’t? Ninety-nine  percent of us are descendants of people who made it here from some other country.  The only exceptions are ancestors who may have been Native Americans.

I’m thinking especially of those who emigrated here knowing that they would never see their relatives and friends back there again. And would never hear from them or be in touch with them again. Many could not write, and many could not afford the postage.

A case in point.  I’ll go back just to the first half of the last century.  Specifically my Pa and Ma. They were immigrants from French Quebec.  Pa and Ma could write, but letters took a long time, and yes, they did write letters and receive letters. And telephones existed.

We had a party line, if you remember what that was. (Several families shared the phone number, which was only four digits/ Maye it was five. If another family was already on, you had to wait till they ended their call.) But long-distance calls were expensive. You didn’t make a call just to say hello. You used the phone for emergency calls. To  say Antonio is very sick.  Or Alfreda just died.  Or our house had a bad fire or we had an awful accident.

Well, Pa would tell relatives up there, “Pas de nouvelles, bonne nouvelle!” I heard him say that time and again. “No news, that’s good news!” They understood. And they acted the same way.

So, yes,  I’m putting in calls. Life is so much easier nowadays, isn’t it?

But,  I also intend this blog post as a great way to wish Happy Thanksgiving to as many friends as I can. Many of you receiving this are such friends, some for many years, some quite recent, and some of you, quite a few in fact, folks I’ve never met but will become friends, I hope. Quite a few, by the way, living in other countries.

So: Happy Thanksgiving to you all! May you sit down to dinner in love and joy.  And if you’re not that fortunate, may you look forward to a better Thanksgiving in 2018, and all the Thanksgivings to follow.

I’ve talked at length about how Thanksgiving has changed. I have, too. I grew up as a flesh eater. For years I’ve been a vegetarian. I live alone now but I always visit family for dinner on Thanksgiving. Of course a turkey is always the centerpiece. I’m the only vegetarian. That always poses a dilemma for them.

I keep assuring them, “Please don’t fuss! Do not fuss! There are plenty of wonderful things here on the t able I’ll enjoy.” And I mean it. But I know they won’t listen. They’ll come up with a nice alternative dish just for me. How fortunate I am.

And I’m grateful in the truest and deepest meaning of Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. I mean Family Day.

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