Talking Turkey

Every year, most Americans celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. But how many truly appreciate what the holiday really means or the history behind it?

I purposefully saved this post for after the holiday we know as “Thanksgiving” because I wanted to reinforce the idea that giving THANKS is something we should all do — every day. Now that we are living in more enlightened times, it is important that the history of this annual celebration be clarified. We have to enjoy the content but place it in context.

The concept of “thanksgiving” — giving thanks to God for the benefits of life, fellowship, fecundity and/or food — is as old as humanity itself, universally celebrated by people all over the world, from time immemorial to the present day.

The very first Thanksgiving in America was celebrated more than 30,000 years ago by Native American people. The Algonkian tribes of the East Coast (the ones who first encountered the Pilgrims) actually held organized celebrations six times each year — every time nature presented a new food crop to enjoy. There was a festival that celebrated the rising sap of the maple tree; a feast to bless seeds at the beginning of the planting season; a strawberry festival to celebrate the first ripened fruits; a corn festival; an autumn harvest celebration and a midwinter festival to close out the year.

The Pilgrims who settled on the eastern shores of America also had a religious tradition of thanksgiving — an observance that was usually held in the month of November. A rigid fundamentalist minority, they were known in their home country of England as Puritans. They called themselves the “chosen elect” and believed that Armageddon was imminent in Europe. It was their hope to establish a “Kingdom of God” as foretold in the Book of Revelation.

The first winter for Pilgrims in America was devastating. Over half of their original settlement died from disease and starvation. In the midst of their troubles, they were aided by a Native American (Squanto) who stayed with the settlers and helped them learn how to survive in their new location. He brought them food, taught them how to cultivate corn and other vegetables, how to recognize medicinal herbs and how to build native styled houses.  Once they learned the lessons, they decided to have a feast to celebrate their good fortune. That was the first American Thanksgiving and it was a multicultural affair.

When additional Puritans arrived from England,  the first settlers, no longer in need of help from the native people who had seen them through their inaugural winter, judged their “friends” as “heathens” — “natural instruments of the Devil” — who had to be eliminated. The animosity between Puritans and Native Americans eventually escalated into a genocidal conflict known as “King Philip’s War.” By the end of it, most Native Americans of the New England coast who had not been exterminated were either refugees in Canada or slaves in the Carolinas.

In spite of the history of misadventure, Benjamin Franklin had no compunction 150 years later in calling on leaders of the Iroquois nation to explain the political structure of their nation. What he learned from them was used as a model for the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States of America. The Federal government of the  United States established Thanksgiving as a public holiday in 1898.

And here we are today….

We have much to be thankful for, not the least of which is the honest effort by many Americans to overcome the prejudices and antipathies of the past. In the best of Native American tradition, we should feel compelled to thank our Creator for the bountiful gifts that have enabled the American nation as well as individual Americans to thrive. In giving thanks, we should think about how we can share our prosperity so that people around the world who are less fortunate will have increased opportunities for food, health and economic prosperity.

Here is a recipe for Succotash, a traditional dish that is a perfect side for any “thanksgiving” meal.

Succotash

Succotash

INGREDIENTS

4 tbs butter
1 cup corn (yellow kernels – frozen is OK)
1 cup lima beans (frozen is OK)
1 small onion (chopped)
½ green bell pepper (chopped)
½ red bell pepper (chopped)
4 small plum tomatoes (chopped)

SEASONING

1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper (black)
½ tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbs sugar (white)

DIRECTIONS

HEAT butter in a large pot
ADD seasonings
ADD vegetables (in order given)
MIX well to coat vegetables with seasoned butter mixture
COVER and cook until vegetables are done (firm, not soft)

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