Editorial: Thanksgiving: Behind the turkey

Editorial Board

Turkeys and football and pies, oh my. The Thanksgiving celebrations of modern times are admittedly a far cry from the original feast from which we are told they descend, but they remain beacons of tradition nonetheless.

Surely we have all been told the story of the first Thanksgiving; that friendly feast held by the newly arrived pilgrims and the resident Native Americans in the early 1600s. The elementary school tale goes that in the wake of a bountiful harvest, the two factions eased tensions by joining together over friendly food and drink, thus creating the recipe for hundreds of Thanksgivings to come.

It is a great story to be sure, but as a historical fact, it contains more than a few errors. The true origin of our national day of Thanksgiving is at best widely contested and most likely an amalgamation of several different traditional festivities or religious observances that have become lumped together by history.

Regardless of the original “Thanksgiving,” we have, in the United States, come together every last Thursday in November since President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863 that we would observe a day of thanks as a single nation. The timing surely seemed right, as we were in the midst of our Civil War, and Lincoln had made his famous Gettysburg Address only a few days prior.

One hundred fifty years on, a Thanksgiving proclamation is still made by the president every year, and we still join together to acknowledge those things that we are most thankful for.

Even though the gluttonous event we now partake in would probably put the comparatively meager festivities of our ancestors to shame, that is the nature of holidays. Few, if any, of our modern days of observance would be recognized by those that lived centuries ago.

From Christmas to Halloween to Turkey Day, our culture has changed and so have the ways we celebrate our special days. It is not so important that we do not eat the same foods as our great-grandparents, or that we enjoy watching American football on those newfangled televideo screens. What is important is that the spirit of the holiday remains true.

While this could arguably be untrue for a variety of our traditional celebrations, Thanksgiving is fairly well-preserved in this regard. The daily Facebook posts of our friends detailing every little thing they are grateful for is evidence enough that we have not forgotten the thankful intentions upon which we rest our turkey feasts.

So go ahead, eat cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and green bean casserole until your fork hand is trembling with exhaustion. Sit down and watch television with your family while everyone lazily bickers over just who should be in the kitchen helping clean the dishes. Get ready to knock off half of your Christmas gift list at five in the morning on the following Friday.

Just remember, Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate the community we have enjoyed over the past year. It is both a day for wallowing in the excesses that our culture have become infamous for and a time when we are filled with sentiments over traditions passed down through the generations.