Saying 'thanks', the US way

Saying 'thanks', the US way

historical festival

Saying 'thanks', the US way

C elebrating a successful harvest is a common practice. Sometimes, these harvest festivals develop unique traditions. One such is the festival of Thanksgiving celebrated in the US.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November every year,  and signifies the unofficial start of the Christmas holiday season.

It is usually a four-day weekend. Families scattered across the country or the world come together on this day. People go to extraordinary lengths to serve traditional dishes at dinner which include a turkey (stuffed and baked, roasted or deep-fried), stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, candied yams, corn and pumpkin pie — it is also the start of the holiday good-eating. However, Thanksgiving, as it is celebrated today, is nothing like it was when it started.

In 1620, a small ship, Mayflower, containing 102 bedraggled people, reached a place in the New World that they named Plymouth, in memory of the place in England from where they had sailed. They were members of a radical Puritan Christian group called the English Separatists who had illegally broken from the Church of England. The Pilgrims, as they came to be called, wanted to practise their religion in freedom, and so had decided to settle in the New World.

It was mid-November, and they suffered hardships that winter, with more than half their number dying due to poor nutrition, inadequate housing, and harsh weather. But in March 1621, they had a special visitor, a Native-American named Tisquantum or Squanto of the local Pawtuxet tribe. This ‘Indian’ could speak English! He had been taken to Europe by slavers, but escaped to England and eventually returned to his native land. Squanto taught them to plant corn and fish, and hunt beavers.

In the fall (autumn) of 1621, they gathered a bountiful harvest and shared a three-day feast with the Pakanoket Indians — the very first Thanksgiving. However, there was no pumpkin pie or potatoes, as the vegetables hadn’t been introduced to the region yet. They didn’t even have turkey!

Thanksgiving didn’t automatically become an American tradition. In 1789, President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation on Thursday the 26th. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared that the final Thursday of November would be the Thanksgiving holiday, thanks to a 30-year campaign by a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale (famous for writing the rhyme ‘Mary had a little lamb’). She also published recipes for pumpkin pie, turkey and stuffing.

Since then, other traditions have cropped up. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (since 1924) in New York is the largest, most famous parade. American presidents (since 1989) ceremonially pardon one or two turkeys and send them to live out their lives in peace. Another tradition since 1934 is the game which is played between two NFL football teams on ‘Turkey Day’. The teams Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys always play.

There is another tradition on the day after Thanksgiving. That day, called Black Friday, is the start of the shopping season for Christmas. It is one of the busiest shopping days in the US. Every store offers incredible sales all day long. People sometimes camp out in front of the stores to take advantage of the ‘Doorbuster’ sales. This is when businesses start recording profits, which used to be marked in black ink (losses were written in red), hence the name Black Friday. And since online shopping started, Cyber Monday came into being — online sales start on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

When we lived in the US, we had our own Thanksgiving traditions. My husband would cook the turkey, closely monitored by our daughters. Being vegetarian, I confined myself to the vegetable side dishes. We also had something the Pilgrims couldn’t have dreamt of: rice and rasam.

Even amongst all the holidays we have here, I miss this one, especially the shopping.

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