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The chief objection to the New England Puritans, of course, is not that they burned Indians at the stake… but that they cursed the country with crude cookery and uneatable victuals. The pumpkin pie, clam chowder, the mince pie, pork and beans–these are some of the awful things we have inherited from those gross and chilblained moralists. Thecommon notion that they also gave us roast turkey, with its attendant sauce of cranberries, is an error arising out of the imbecility of the persons who manufacture covers for the November magazines. As a matter of fact, the turkey was unknown in New England until the downfall of the theocracy
and the repeal of the blue laws against intellectual eating.
The customary Thanksgiving fowl, in witch-burning days, was the common jack rabbit, with the puddle duck as an
occasional variant. The turkey, as every sophomore in
victuality is aware, really hails from Virginia, and the cranberry from the miasmatic marshes of New Jersey…
–H.L. Mencken, “The Fried Smelt,” Baltimore _Evening Sun_, 1910 December 17.
A Serf's Thanksgiving Thank you for the widow's cry, For a hovel like a sty. Thank you for the bitter cold For all the joys of growing old. Thank you for each loathe disease, For all the tyrants at their ease. Thank you for our hunger pangs, For itchy rash and tiger fangs. Thank you for each child that dies, For priestly frauds and bishops' lies. Thank you for each rotten smell, For penance, Purgatory, Hell. Thank you for each "witch's" fate, For ignorance and fear and hate. Thank you for the spider's sting. Thank you, God, for everything. --Robert W. Whitaker, ca. 1975
Art Buchwald: Chacun à son goût, or why we eat turkey
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2005
Mrs. Paris Singer was attending a garage sale in Bethesda when she came across a yellowed newspaper clipping dated 1952. It was titled “Explaining Thanksgiving to the French.” She bought it for $10.
Much to her surprise, when she took it to an expert at the Library of Congress, he told her it was a collector’s item, and there were only five of them left in the world. It was valued at $80,000. It now hangs in Mrs. Singer’s living room under glass.
[Most sources say 1953. The first paragraph may have been added in subsequent reprintings.]
This confidential column was leaked to me by a high government official in the Plymouth colony on the condition that I not reveal his name.
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant.
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims (Pèlerins) who fled from l’Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World (le Nouveau Monde) where they could shoot Indians (les Peaux-Rouges) and eat turkey (dinde) to their heart’s content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (a famous voiture Américaine) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai) in 1620. But while the Pèlerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pèlerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pèlerins was when they taught them to grow corn (maïs).
The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pèlerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pèlerins’ crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more maïs was raised by the Pèlerins than Pèlerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.
Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilomètres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the
“Go to the damsel Priscilla (allez très vite chez Priscilla), the
loveliest maiden of Plymouth (la plus jolie demoiselle de
Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action (un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.
“I am a maker of war (je suis un fabricant de la guerre) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar (vous, qui êtes pain comme un etudiant), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden.”
Although Jean was fit to be tied (convenable à être emballé), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow (rendue muette par l’étonnement et la tristesse).
At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: “If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?” (Où est-il, le vieux Kilomètres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas auprès de moi pour tenter sa chance?)
Jean said that Kilomètres Deboutish was very busy and didn’t have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilomètres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, Jean?” (Chacun à son goût.)
And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes, and for the only time during the year eat better than the French do.
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fête and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilomètres Deboutish, who made this great day