Before we dig into the turkey and whatnot, let’s take a moment to remember the history behind Thanksgiving, shall we? Feel free to print this out and read with the whole family.
It was autumn of 1621. The Pilgrim settlers in Plymouth had just struck a decisive blow in their battle against the local indigenous people, thanks to their large cache of handguns and a well-timed bout of smallpox. In celebration, landowners all across New England took a much-needed break from burning witches and gathered in a large, muddy field in upstate New York to hear a stirring speech by heroic General George Washington. Against a backdrop of well-amplified patriotic hymns, Washington announced the institution of the first national holiday of Thanksgiving. The holiday was to be commemorated with a three-day feast beginning at midnight on the first new moon after the second Thursday of the second-to-last month of the year.
Dissent immediately sprang up among the local villagers, who complained that the schedule would force hundreds of them to work while others were stuffing their faces and watching the Redskins take on the Lions in the Coliseum. The villagers eventually put away their torches, however, when they remembered that vacations hadn’t been invented yet.
For the next four weeks, preparations were made for a grand feast, the likes of which had not been seen in the New World since notorious party boy Chris Columbus dropped in to visit. Farmers emptied their storehouses of dried corn, tobacco, and whiskey. Villagers suffered through long lines at their local turkey slaughterhouses and pumpkin patches. In the “Waste Not, Want Naught” spirit of the day, famed brewer Samuel Adams released a special Turkey Gizzard Ale for the occasion.
A crisis set in on the eve of the first Thanksgiving feast when housewives all over New England realized they had made many more apple and pumpkin pies than ever could be consumed by the settlers who had survived the Great Famine of 1620. Invitations were hastily issued to the local natives, who presumably wouldn’t notice that they had only recently been added to the Evite list.
The first day of the celebration went off without a hitch. The people spent Thanksgiving day huddled around small tables piled high with the bounty of the land, feasting on carcasses of local birds, cornbread, corn cakes, corn-on-the-cob, popcorn, creamed corn, and corn. They spent that evening and late into the night gathered around fires, giving public proclamations of thanks. Not thanks to any specific deity, mind you. Instead, the participants encouraged more enlightened expressions of general thankfulness for being lucky enough to stay well-fed that year. This was New England, after all.
On the second day of the celebration, things took a dramatic turn for the worse. Never having been warned of the dangers of botulism, villagers had unwittingly unleashed a dark plague on the populace by serving from bloated, infected cans of cranberry sauce. By Friday evening, huge piles of bodies of the dead were gathered in town squares across New England.
The leaders of the surviving settlers assembled the following day at Washington, D.C. They opened the meeting by swearing a solemn oath never to forget that Black, Black Friday. A day of prayer and remembrance was rejected as too boring and out of step with their Puritan values. Instead, they would remember that day by encouraging everyone to buy stuff.
For the next several hours of the meeting, they made plans to institute a national healthcare system to avoid the ravages of future plagues, only to abandon them when they reached an impasse over selecting a qualified programmer to build the website. The remainder of the meeting was spent sharing recipes for what to do with all those leftovers.