Thanksgiving — Origins, Trivia, and What Really Matters

| November 21, 2012 | 1 Comment

For five years running we’ve tucked into our Thanksgiving dinners at Joe Allen Restaurant in Paris’s First Arrondissement. Yes, the holiday is celebrated in American enclaves throughout the world, and scoring a reservation for the traditional feast at the forty-year-old Franco-American institution also happens to be one of the hottest tickets in town.

What began as a table of three Americans not that long ago has grown to a table of eight, which now includes three Frenchmen and two Mexican ex-patriots. And with every year come new questions about our holiday, many of which we’d never before considered.

“If you love cranberry sauce so much, then why do you only eat it today?” “You mean Thanksgiving is a more popular holiday than Christmas?” “What is a pecan?” “Besides eating, what else do you do?”

And as the night wears on and bottles of Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs (a California sparkling wine that’s been a White House favorite for decades) are emptied, eventually someone asks what the holiday is about. We quickly gloss over the simplistic (Native American Indians and Pilgrims) and graphic (we stole their land) and move on to more lighthearted trivia:

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In 1863, President Lincoln issued a non-governmental proclamation that the last Thursday of every November should be reserved for “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” The holiday, which celebrated and gave religious gratitude for a bountiful autumnal harvest, was previously celebrated on different days throughout fall in the New England states.

Two years later, Lincoln became the first president to offer the now-famous turkey clemency when his son Tad, who had a fondness for foul, begged that the president spare the bird’s life.

First lady Ida McKinley had a twenty-six-pound turkey stuffed with oysters prepared for her first Thanksgiving at the White House. Because of the first lady’s frequent seizures, the McKinleys broke protocol and actually sat side-by-side at dinner parties and state dinners. When Mrs. McKinley would feel a “fit” coming on, the president would calmly take her napkin and place it over her head while guests continued dining as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening

Americans consume more alcohol on the night before Thanksgiving than on Saint Patrick’s Day and New Years Eve.

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in 1924 and featured wild animals on loan from the Central Park Zoo.

Prior to 1942, presidents were allowed to change the date of Thanksgiving if they so chose. When President Franklin Roosevelt noticed that November 1939 had five Thursdays, he moved Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of the month in hopes of increasing retail sales for the Christmas season. (Republicans called this “Franksgiving.”) At the time, shoppers found the idea of shopping for Christmas prior to Thanksgiving distasteful and the experiment backfired. Three years later, by Congressional legislative approval, the federal holiday became immovable as the fourth (not the final) Thursday of November.

The Poultry and Egg Board and National Turkey Federation, along with President Truman, made a turkey “reprieve” a White House photo-op. Actual turkey “pardons,” did not become set in stone until 1989 with President George H.W. Bush

In time for Thanksgiving of 1953, Swanson debuted its first “TV Brand Frozen Dinner,” which consisted of turkey and gravy, cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes, and peas.

In 1995 French’s purchased Durkee’s French fried onions. The popular product is used to top millions of green bean casseroles throughout the holidays, though in recent years hostesses have felt obligated to semi-apologize for adding the topping saying, “it’s a bit white trash-y, I know, but hey I grew up on it.” Pot smokers, however, have been known to unapologetically scarf down entire containers of the product while standing in front of an open refrigerator.

In 2009, President Obama named and pardoned “Courage” who, after parading in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, was allowed to retire at Disneyland.

Last year 750 million pounds of cranberries were harvested — 30 percent of which were consumed on Thanksgiving Day alone.  The remaining 70 percent was made into cranberry juice: half of which was mixed with vodka, while the other half was guzzled directly from the container by hobbling women with U.T.I.s.

Macy’s several-hours-long televised advertisement known as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has distracted some viewers’ attention from patent commercialism to the political. Angelo Carusone of SignOn.org began an online petition requesting Macy’s to drop Donald Trump’s clothing line because of the recent foaming-at-the-mouth birther’s political comments against President Obama. However, it seems there will be no miracle on 35th Street as the world’s largest department store has refused to sever ties.

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The first year that a Frenchman joined our table he asked what the holiday actually meant to us — besides the trivia, besides the holiday’s origins and culinary traditions. — “why is it so special to you?”

And with mouthfuls of pumpkin pie came the words that put lumps in our throats:  “family,” “home,” “country,” “friendship,” and “gratitude.”

And every year at this time, I am reminded of something I read exactly twenty years ago this month when I checked into my hotel room on the Left Bank. In the nightstand drawer was a slim paperback left behind by a previous traveler. It was raining and I was jet lagged but determined to stay awake so I took the book to what would become my favorite Paris hangout, Café Beauborg, and cozied into one of the banquettes. It’s doubtful that Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah will ever find its way onto a shelf with Camus or Sartre but there was a sentiment that has stayed with me for two decades. The two sentences perfectly sum up my very special dinner with my very special friends who are — my family:

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

And that is what Thanksgiving is for me.

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We, at Glittersnipe, wish you and your family — both blood-related and chosen — a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.

Christina D’Angelo
Editor in Chief

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  1. Stephanie Wilkins says:

    Love it, girl!

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