Thursday, November 23, 2017

Grateful Harvest

By Cheryl Oreglia

It's hard to imagine the first Thanksgiving was a harvest celebration held by the pilgrims of Plymouth colony in the 17th century. Clearly Americans like to eat and perpetuating foodie traditions is especially popular. As you know the early pilgrims had a lot to celebrate, 53 out of 102 survived the Mayflower crossing, only to encounter raw land in need of cultivating, disease, extreme weather, and the Native Americans. It was a tenuous beginning at best. I'm sure they were flabbergasted when members of the Wampanoag tribe generously supplied them with food for the cold winter. A kind and neighborly gesture that sort of backfired a century later.

The first harvest celebration went on for several days. Can you imagine? Ninety members of the Wampanoag tribe showed up with five dead deer in need of roasting. This is diversity at its best. Edward Winslow wrote about the celebration in his diary. 
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” 
Eventually the United States established a date for these yearly harvest celebrations, which of course made travel a nightmare, but at least you know why the grocery stores are inundated with turkeys, cranberries, and sweet potatoes. In accordance with tradition, families and friends gather to enjoy an array of foods, express gratitude, and watch football while gorging on pumpkin pie. The traditional meal was choreographed in the 60's when an article appeared in Better Homes and Gardens describing the perfect, "Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner: Hot Tomato Starter, Roast Turkey, Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Orange-glazed Sweet Potatoes, buttered Green Beans, Apple-Pinapple Slaw, Hot Biscuits, Butter, Pumpkin Pie, Hot Coffee." They outed the deer and corn for a more appealing meat and seasonal vegetable. Who knew?

Mail isn't delivered, schools are on holiday, and most businesses are closed, except for Walmart of course. This is my experience of Thanksgiving, but I wanted to explore some of the more unusual expressions of this holiday, and this is what I found. 
  1. How about a traditional food fight at the end of the meal? Started by a crazy aunt, slightly inebriated, but becomes a cherished family tradition. I have to admit this one worries me.
  2. I learned about a crafty host who provides a white tablecloth for guests to leave painted handprints, made to look like turkeys, dated, and signed. They add new hands to the cloth each year. Now there's a way to occupy the guests while the turkey cooks.
  3. A few people I know host an open table Thanksgiving, this is where you might land if you are estranged from family, or far away from home. It is a generous and kind practice for those who would otherwise spend Thanksgiving alone. Open hearts, open doors. I am ever so thankful for the tables that are open to my children that are not with me this year.
  4. The turkey dance is one of the more unusual traditions I came across. This requires the cook to dance with the turkey prior to being stuffed? I will assume this requires soft music, romantic lighting, and good wine. Bon Appetit!  
  5. The Twitter family asks everyone to send out a gratitude tweet right before grace and then all phones all go into a turkey shaped cookie jar until the end of the evening. Tweet, tweet, gobble, gobble.
  6. Instead of pie this family plays hide and seek after dinner with their cars. Teams are constructed, boundaries decided, the "it" car gives a fifteen minute grace period for teams to hide, and then drives around until all the cars are found. Makes you wonder what you would say to the police officer who discovers five people sitting in a dark car, on Thanksgiving, behind a bush in a neighbors yard?
  7. Friends-giving is a popular tradition for many who gather in celebration of friendship. These events are often celebrated at an earlier date leaving the holiday open for family events. My daughter hosts a friends-giving up at the lake every year, and other than an Instagram of the table setting, I know nothing about the intricacies of this event. Beer and ping pong balls might be involved? 
  8. I read about a grandma who bakes "thankful rolls" with pillsbury dough. The family writes down what they are thankful for on tiny slips of paper as they arrive and these notes are actually baked into the rolls, like a fortune cookie, only with butter. What would you write?
  9. The Turkey Trotter is a stuffed turkey that travels with family members that are away for Thanksgiving. They are required to take regular updates of their travels with pictures of these turkeys positioned in funny locations. I just sent turkeys to Australia and Utah (most likely they'll arrive late, remember it's the thought that counts, but I expect pictorial updates nonetheless). 
  10. One family has a Twister competition after dinner with several mats and rounds going at the same time. Right hand, blue circle, left hand, yellow circle. This could be an interesting intergenerational activity if no one gets seriously hurt. 
  11. Instead of sitting around after dinner you could go on a scavenger hunt searching for specific scenes; like pumpkins on the doorstep, piles of leaves, people walking pets, live turkey's milling around, someone jogging (really), or early Christmas decorations. See what team returns with the most finds substantiated with photos of course. I admit, this one's a keeper.
  12. The famous butter shapers, comes from an odd family skill, passed down through the generations of sculpting the butter into turkeys. The kids then fight over who gets to cut off the heads. A little violent but aesthetically pleasing I suppose.
  13. Then of course there is the family weigh-in prior to gorging on the traditional meal, it's actually a competition to see who can gain the most. Why? 
  14. And my personal favorite. After the dinner is consumed the ladies leave and go shopping at Walmart for comfy PJ's and silly socks while the men clean up the kitchen. Oh I can not express how much I love this tradition. 
Wishing you all a wonderful and gracious Thanksgiving! Sharing a table with those you love is a sacred act. This year listen to the music of the table, the voices, the laughter, the clink of the spoon against the gravy bowl, the scraping of chairs on the hardwood, the litany of silverware dinging the plates, the movement, the grace of being elbow to elbow, worshiping the flavors of life. "For this and all we are about to receive, make us truly grateful..."  
Drink and be thankful to the host! What seems insignificant when you have it, is important when you need it. Franz Grillparzer

Notes - The term cold-turkey means suddenly, without preparation. Talk turkey means to speak without preparation. A turkey shoot is a fight or contest where one side is so much stronger that the weaker side has no chance of winning. Bird for thought...

What are some of your favorite traditions? 

I'm Living in the Gap, drop in anytime.


Carrie Beckort said...

Thanks for the great post, Cheryl! And for the ideas on starting some new traditions... We don't currently have any turkey day traditions. Although, I did create one for the fictional family in my first book, Kingston's Project. They do something called 'Thanks of Light'. They go around the table and each person names three ridiculous things for which they are grateful. For example, I might say my cozy sweater, singing in the car, and chocolate.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Thank you Carrie! We have a big family dinner at my in-laws each year but we don't do anything out of the ordinary. I started soliciting friends and coworkers about their traditions and I was surprised by all the fun rituals. Since the blog posted I've learned of many more. Makes me want to instigate something new next year. I appreciate the new idea you posted above, we'll add it to the list!

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