SunSpecial: Thanks for Giving   Leave a comment

Thanksgiving, an exclusive American holiday, is abundant with symbols only associated with that Autumn time of year: Falling leaves; a chill in the weather; abundant fruits and vegetables (where else would cranberry sauce go?); and family and friends gathering around a seasonal feast most often featuring the friendless turkey. No one’s your friend when you’re the main course.

Most of us know Founding Father Ben Franklin preferred the humble Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) as America’s national symbol, over the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) as, he wrote, it is a “Bird of bad moral character”. But beyond his position of turkey advocacy, is it possible old Ben (powdered-wig wearer of the 1700’s, not the light-sword-fighting Old Ben from science fiction), had more to do with our favorite Fall feeding festival; and much of that day, from our food to our traditions to the holiday itself has less to with with Pilgrims and Native Americans from the 1600’s sitting together for dinner, than it does with events set into motion as recently as the 20th Century?

Following the harvest of 1621 (sometime between late September and early November), historical records state 90 local Natives and 53 recently-arrived Englishmen took a break from their work for a three-day celebration. (For some families, the number of people and duration of eating is almost the same today. Leftovers!). But following that introductory year, there are no records of any similar feast occurring, on any regular basis at any specific time, until the mid 1700’s when Americans – then British Colonials – were growing tired of being considered the ‘poor cousin’ to English rule and were looking for something american to celebrate. So, following any successful harvest, or building of a new church, or when someone’s family returned from a long journey, the village held a ‘thanks-giving’ – an opportunity to get together, eat local foods, and probably talk about how it would be better to be our own country, rather than an English Colony. By the time of the Revolutionary War this tradition had caught on and in 1777 the Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving; but as a strictly somber time of remembrance and thanks, not a day to feast and watch football. By 1815 the custom had largely been forgotten as a national event (maybe because football hadn’t yet been invented), and while families may have continued to celebrate a Fall harvest festival, there was no national Thanksgiving day until 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt established the permanent holiday.

So what does this have to do with Ben, and his turkeys? Through much of the 1700’s, Ben was just about everywhere and involved in just about everything. While much of his work remains unknown (for someone so important he worked hard to remain behind-the-scenes), the 1777 first Thanksgiving was certainly influenced by his actions; and while he continued to believe the Turkey, not the eagle, is a more fitting symbol of America due to its perseverance, ability to survive under difficult conditions, and is a “Bird of Courage”, Ben was never able to convince most anyone else. Because, as it has turned out, Thanksgiving is a celebration for the people; and among animals, who on this day make the biggest sacrifices, there is no thanks to give.

“...well, the sign said 'This way to free Thanksgiving dinner'....”

“…well, the sign said ‘This way to free Thanksgiving dinner’….”

Posted November 22, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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