On Thanksgiving Day around the country, people will be sleeping in, reading the paper leisurely, and taking long strolls, anticipating a traditional holiday feast. Mothers will not be among them. Instead, they will be up at 5 a.m. trying to defrost the turkey with a hair dryer because it won’t fit in the microwave. Waiting for them on the kitchen counter are 15 pounds of sweet potatoes to peel and cook, a bushel of beans to snap and grandmother’s recipe for cornbread stuffing that begins, “Take out a good-size wash pot.”
The last time you recruited your children to help with the dinner, you discovered them using the naked bird to act out their favorite rap song. Along with your bird and wash pot of dressing, you wonder how these traditions began. I have my own version of how they began but I doubt you will find them in any history book.
It all began in 1621 in Plymouth Colony when the Pilgrim fathers decided they should have a feast to give thanks for their first harvest in their new country. After declaring this Thanksgiving Day, the Pilgrim fathers notified the Pilgrim mothers that the feast was up to them.
Now, if you remember your history correctly, there was no Domino’s Pizza, no McDonald’s and no Burger King in Plymouth, so ordering out was not even a possibility.
The Pilgrim mothers inquired as to who might be invited to this feast. The Pilgrim fathers indicated that it would include the entire colony as well as their new Indian friends, which could number five or 50, as no one knew the Indian word for RSVP.
After much grumbling and moaning over the preparation of such a huge feast, the Pilgrim mothers decided to keep it simple and serve a corn casserole with berries and fruit. The Pilgrim fathers would hear nothing of this because they planned to impress the Indians with a meal of freshly killed game, abundant vegetables, breads and sweets.
The Pilgrim mothers reminded the Pilgrim fathers that they already carried most of the responsibilities for the colony, doing jobs such as educating the children, weaving, sewing, washing and ironing, gathering fruits and berries, and cooking. They agreed the least the Pilgrim fathers could do was prepare this feast themselves.
The Pilgrim fathers discussed the Pilgrim mothers’ proposal, but admitted that their culinary creations could lead to some serious indigestion and might prove offensive to their guests, the Indians. In the end, they offered the Pilgrim mothers new beaver and squirrel coats if they would cook the feast.
The Pilgrim mothers relented and prepared the meal. It was a huge success. In the aftermath of that first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim mothers began to refer to the Pilgrim fathers as “those turkeys,” which is why instead of wild duck which was served at the first Thanksgiving, we now eat turkey.
If there is any doubt in your mind as to how much truth there is in my version of the first Thanksgiving, then you’re probably not the one up to your elbows in a wash pot full of cornbread dressing.