"In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving."-- from History.com
Thanksgiving is a low-stress holiday, a celebration of food and
football. The history books in school said that the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag celebrated the first Thanksgiving, eating a peaceful, abundant meal together in 1621. This historic episode or legend may have been revised or reinterpreted since my schooldays. But to me Thanksgiving embodies the spirit of Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men. It is devoid of the capitalist pressure of buying, buying, buying for Christmas.
And the feast is one of my favorites. Roast the
turkey in the oven, make a fruit salad, mash the potatoes, bake the
green bean casserole, roast and stuff a squash for the vegetarians, and buy
the pumpkin pies, for heaven's sake. Before the big football game on TV, you can set the table with
your grandmother's Jewel Tea Company china, which she bought with
coupons in the '30s or '40s, and summon everybody to the table. Last year you retired the Pilgrims tablecloth,
because someone found it politically incorrect and "offensive." Heavens, it was not an heirloom, and I certainly was not attached to it. Let it go! It's like that turkey centerpiece you made at school out of a potato and
toothpicks. Not an heirloom.
The great difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas, both celebrations of food and football, is the frantic gift exchange (and that Christmas is a religious holiday, of course). After all, Christmas is almost over by Thanksgiving, since Black Friday started in October and you've bought everything - or so you think, until you read in New York Magazine that a Kombucha brewing kit would be perfect for the men in your life. ""Do you ever drink Kombucha?" you ask at dinner. Aunt Florrie frowns and mouths a frantic NO!!! None of the men have heard of Kombucha. There will be no messy bottle operation in the basement. No beer/Komucha bottles exploding.
Christmas is restless and boisterous, related to the wild Roman holiday, Saturnalia. There is the trimming of the tree, the cheerful repetition of "Jingle Bell Rock" on the radio, carols at Midnight Mass, and the American obsession with Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Have you, too, accompanied your family to the community theater production A Christmas Carol? Not again, you think silently. But if you stay home because of a small cold, Aunt Florrie stays home, too, and suggests listening to A Christmas Carol read aloud on the radio.
Are the British and Canadians this obsessed with A Christmas Carol?
If you learn it by heart, you can drive everybody crazy and they'll let you watch The Bishop's Wife or Christmas in July instead.
But I'll enjoy Thanksgiving first.