OK, so here we go again, the Thanksgiving holiday, one that for years has been my absolute favorite. It’s really been my favorite for much of my adult life, supplanting my juvenile favorite, which was Christmas for obvious “Hmm…wonder-what’s-in-that-big-box-with-my-name-on-it” reasons.
However, since the desire has waned to acquire more material possessions, stuff I’ve often expressed no real desire to add to the stuff I already have, Thanksgiving long ago moved into my No. 1 holiday slot. It’s a holiday where the emphasis isn’t on who can wow another with the newest tech gadget or pair of those distressed jeans that have mystified me ever since they came onto the fashion scene a few years ago.
No, what Thanksgiving is about is celebrating a gift often taken for granted but one of immeasurable worth, something only truly valued when, with enough years, there comes the wisdom needed to know its worth. That gift is quality time spent with those who are most special to us, time for in-depth conversation, time for laughter, time for hugs and time for plenty of exploration of the shared memories crafted over a lifetime.
The centerpiece of the day isn’t what’s around the base of a tree. Instead, it is a special meal. The meal will be one that took longer to plan and prepare than the many other meals we eat day after day, ones that are often nothing more than microwave-heated reprisals.
While there are those who perhaps go to a different spiral-ham or standing-rib direction, most families go the traditional route with a turkey and the customary sides such as the tried-and-true green-bean casserole, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and stuffing, followed, of course, by large slabs of pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip.
For those who may occasionally wonder how what’s on the modern Thanksgiving table differs from that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth back in 1621, first understand there really are no records of the menu, which shouldn’t be all that surprising since those who gathered, the Pilgrims and the Native American Wampanoags, surely weren’t thinking their gathering was going to launch generations of special feasts in America celebrated on the fourth Thursday of each November.
However, historians have determined the food in many respects was pretty similar to tomorrow’s, with turkey, fruits and veggies, potatoes and even a version of pumpkin pie dominating the fare.
According to History.com, Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow recorded that Plymouth colony governor William Bradford sent four men out on a fowling expedition, one so successful because of the abundance of wild turkey in the region that the entrée was guaranteed.
As for what was different than this year’s feast, the chronicler Winslow wrote that the colonists’ guests, the Wampanoags, brought five deer that food historians speculate were roasted on a spit, with some of the meat becoming the key ingredient in a hearty stew. Additionally, culinary historians believe there was an abundance of shellfish, notably mussels, which could be found in abundance on the shoreline, as well as clams, oysters, bass and lobster, which Winslow said were abundant in the bay.
Now, as for the pumpkin pie, well, it was quite different from the ones that many will pick up today at what I consider the go-to place for holiday pies, Kewpee. According to History.com, there weren’t the butter and wheat flour needed to make pie crusts nor had these early folks figured out how to construct an oven, so improvisation was needed. Pumpkins were hollowed and filled with honey, some spices and milk to create a custard before it was roasted in hot ashes.
Thanksgiving, no doubt, saw houses throughout the country filled with family, some close friends and maybe a specially invited guest. As for the first Thanksgiving, well, sadly, it was largely a male-dominated affair, at least for the colonists. The preceding first winter was brutal, which, according to some accounts, wiped out almost 80 percent of the women. Additionally, historians feel that the Wampanoags outnumbered to colonists by two to one.
So, indeed, when it comes to Thanksgiving, we’ve come a long way from that first gathering outside, one that historians think took place to celebrate a successful harvest somewhere between September and early November.
While on Thursday there was indeed some interest in the three NFL games, please remember what the day was really all about.
I hope you snapped that TV off when it was time to eat, something my dear mother always insisted on Thanksgivings, and truly talked to one another and sought that deeper human connection in the same manner those early Pilgrims and Wampanoag did.
Without the distractions of the gifts around the tree, Thanksgiving can be so very special.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].