Today was American Thanksgiving. It’s an odd sort of holiday, as it’s secular and it doesn’t actually celebrate any real event, person, or thing.
As American schoolchildren, we were (and to extent still are, especially here in Massachusetts) fed the story of the Pilgrims and the “Indians” and “The First Thanksgiving” where the Pilgrims were starving and the Natives brought them food and there was a giant feast. Kids make Turkey handprints, make stupid hats out of paper plates and enjoy half a week off (the usual is a half day on Wed, getting you home around lunch, with Thursday and Friday off).
For my non-American friends…the whole “First Thanksgiving” thing? Total bullshit. Here is a link to the only two surviving primary documents about the “First Thanksgiving.” There WAS a harvest celebration, but it was not anything special. Yes, the Wampanoag people helped the starving Pilgrims. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking there was all sorts of happy happy joy joy and togetherness. The Separatists were a gloomy people who were incredibly pious, and the last thing they would have done is gone in for some gluttony. There was tension, and often outright hostility between the natives and the Europeans in North America. And disease. Lots of disease that the Indigenous peoples had no antibodies to help protect them against. Here is a link that shares and debunks other popular myths about Thanksgiving (most of which, as a former elementary school teacher I can safely tell you are still be disseminated because as Americans, we hate to let history get in the way of a good story).
In 1863, a Sarah Josepha Hale who you would better know as the author of that ubiquitous children’s rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln asking him to declare “Thanksgiving” (previously celebrated only in New England) a national holiday. (Locals–she also was a campaigner for the Bunker Hill Monument…although the Bunker Hill Battle actually happened on Breed’s Hill during the Siege of Boston during the American Revolution). He did so, and Thanksgiving was periodically celebrated nationwide, but most often as a day of solemnity and prayer, and not annually on a fixed day.
The modern Thanksgiving (celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November) was signed into law by FDR in 1941. Over the years, it has gained a strong association with football as it gained popularity, and a giant feast including Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and other food.
Ravi and I have a hit or miss history with Thanksgiving. In 2005, we celebrated with our respective families. In 2006, we were in Niagara Falls, Canada…a country that celebrates its Thanksgiving a month prior, so it was just “Thursday,” making it easy to procure food (although if I recall, we ate at Outback instead of consuming turkey). In 2007, we think we hosted both sets of parents at our place. In 2008, Ravi had gastroenteritis and Elanor was still in the hospital. She and I spent the day together…but it was a huge deal as it was the first day she did not need to be continuously hooked up, and I got to carry her around the children’s wing, describing all the ocean-themed art on the walls to my sleeping 3 week old. We did a family thanksgiving a few weeks later, once she’d been released from the hospital. In 2009, we had a big family thanksgiving with Ravi’s family…relatives flew in from all over the US. It was kind of my dream rockwellian fantasy of what Thanksgiving could be. Today, we had a small family event with my friend Curt joining us. It was fairly low key…especially the part where Curt, Ravi and I were hanging out on a couch talking and eventually all just fell asleep for a good hour.
Football was watched, food was consumed (including my apple pie from scratch–use Martha‘s pie crust recipe and this apple pie recipe for ultimate yumminess), naps were taken. All in all…a good Thanksgiving.
I wonder what a Thanksgiving would be like in Singapore? Ravi would have to take the day off, as it would just be the fourth Thursday of the month. I have an oven, so I could manage a Thanksgiving dinner (or we could join with friends to create a bigger one). But without that snap of cold in the air…and the smell of snow not yet fallen…would it feel the same? I suppose we’ll find out with Christmas.