Thanksgiving is fun for me because no one has figured out how to sell it. There are no Thanksgiving carols to endure, no only-sixty-shopping-days-til-Thanksgiving, not even Thanksgiving cards to keep track of. Essentially, family and friends just gather to cook a bird, circle around it and pick at it until it is a shell of bare bones. It’s a caveman holiday.
Preparation of the first American Thanksgiving for ninety-one Indians and fifty-six settlers fell to four women and two teenage girls —the rest of the women died the prior winter —so not much has changed there.
There are many legends from the Thanksgiving feast. Chief Massasoit’s brother Quadequina disappeared into the woods during dinner and returned with a bowl of popcorn, which amazed the settlers. It didn’t take much to amaze them, apparently. Maybe that is why they were called “settlers.”
It was also the first American use of the wishbone, a good-luck contest brought by the Europeans. I didn’t know until today that the wishbone ceremony is the origin of our phrase “lucky break,” or that the bone was originally considered lucky because pagans thought it looked like spread legs.
Other feasts of fame: King Darius plied his guests with smoked camel hump, a Persian favorite. Americans don’t eat camel hump, I suppose because we never figured out how to make fast food out of it. “Honey, want me to pick up dinner? I’m right by the Hump ‘n’ Go.”
The Bible doesn’t mention it, but Jewish tradition implies that it is very likely Jesus and his Apostles sang at the Last Supper. Stuck in my head is Da Vinci’s famous image of the meal, everyone all scowly and accusatory. I have to reinvent to imagine them all singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat.
In the 1600s the Earl of Carlisle concocted meals so visually beautiful that guests could not bring themselves to eat, but gazed upon the food/art until it inevitably went cold. According to my history book, so extravagant were his meals that he was dubbed “The English Heliogabalus.” I can’t wait to use that nickname on somebody. “Dude—you are, like, the Omaha Heliogabalus!”
I have been told there is actually a Feast of The Circumcision. I’m too afraid to look it up so I can’t tell you what is traditionally served. I can only guess it’s something like pork rinds or curly fries.
I almost forgot! The outcome of the wishbone contest presented at the original American Thanksgiving? The Indians got the short end of the stick.