From a friend of mine today.... =================================================== reprinted from a 1950's column in the Paris Herald Tribune that I firstread as a kid in Europe. If you know a bit of French it really cracks you up:
(Further below is Garrison Keillor's anthology.) JG Explaining Thanksgiving to the French The Los Angeles Times | November 28 1996 | Art Buchwald By Art Buchwald Thursday, November 28 1996 The Los Angeles Times[ In 1953, during my tour of duty with the French Foreign Legion in the Sahara, my tough sergeant from Marseilles said to me, "Why do all the American recruits refuse to eat anything but turkey on this day?" I told him I was sorry but my lips were sealed. He then poured honey on my head so the ants would get me. That's when I broke down and talked.]
One of the 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 (Pelerins) 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 hearts' content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine) in a wooden sailing ship named the Mayflower, or Fleur de Mai, in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them how to grow corn (mais). They did this because they liked corn with their Pelerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins' crops were so good they decided to have a celebration and because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by the Peaux-Rouges. Every year on le 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 Kilometres Deboutish ) and a shy young 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 jeune lieutenant:
"Go to the damsel Priscilla (Allez tres 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 understand, 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 suited to win the heart of the maiden."
Although Jean was fit to be tied (convenable a être emballe), friendship prevailed over love and 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'etonnement et la tristesse).
At length she exclaimed, breaking 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?" ("Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance?")
Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for such things. He staggered on, telling her what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally, Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ("Chaçun a son gout.")
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 grand fête, and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.
(C) 1996, Los Angeles Times Syndicate. From Garrison Keillor: Today is Thanksgiving Day.Feast days giving thanks for a good harvest have been celebrated for thousands of years. But when we talk about "the first Thanksgiving," we are referring to a fall feast day in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, when about 50 recently arrived colonists shared in three days of feasting with 90 Wampanoag Indians. The pilgrims had arrived almost a year earlier, but after a long journey and no resources for surviving in this new place, about half of them died during the first winter. The wheat they had brought didn't sprout in the rocky soil, and they had no idea which native plants were edible and which were poisonous.
Luckily for them, there were two Indians living nearby who spoke English. One of them, Squanto, had been enslaved by a British slave trader, but was also close friends with an English explorer, John Weymouth. The other, Samoset, was a leader from a tribe in what is now Maine, and had learned English from British fishermen there. The colonists were quite surprised when Samoset walked into their camp and said, "Welcome, Englishmen!" in English. He introduced them to Squanto, and to Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoag.
Samoset went back to his tribe, but Squanto felt sorry for the sick and confused colonists, and since he lived nearby anyway, he decided to stay and teach them how to survive in this new place. He taught them to plant corn, to fish and dig clams, to tap maple trees, to use wild plants as medicine, and to build shelters in the Wampanoag style. By that fall, they had successfully harvested their first crops, and they had built seven houses, a common space, and three shelters to store their excess food. So they had plenty of reasons to celebrate.
The colonists decided to set aside a few days to eat and give thanks for their harvest. They had celebrated Thanksgiving in the past, but as a purely religious holiday, full of praying, not celebration. They invited Squanto and Massasoit and their families to come, expecting a few people. But Squanto and Massasoit brought 90 people with them to join the 52 colonists. The feasting lasted for three days, and they probably ate venison, duck, lobsters, mussels, chestnuts, parsnips, eel, corn, dried beans, plums, gooseberries, and squash. There were no potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pies, and probably not even turkey.
On Thanksgiving Day of 1884, Walt Whitman (books by this author) published a piece in The Philadelphia Press, writing about himself in the third person. He wrote:
"Scene.— A large family supper party, a night or two ago, with voices and laughter of the young, mellow faces of the old, and a by-and-by pause in the general joviality. 'Now, Mr. Whitman,' spoke up one of the girls, 'what have you to say about Thanksgiving? Won't you give us a sermon in advance, to sober us down?' The sage nodded smilingly, look'd a moment at the blaze of the great wood fire, ran his forefinger right and left through the heavy white mustache that might have otherwise impeded his voice, and began: 'Thanksgiving goes probably far deeper than you folks suppose. I am not sure but it is the source of the highest poetry. [...] We Americans devote an official day to it every year; yet I sometimes fear the real article is almost dead or dying in our self-sufficient, independent Republic. Gratitude, anyhow, has never been made half enough of by the moralists; it is indispensable to a complete character, man's or woman's — the disposition to be appreciative, thankful. That is the main matter, the element, inclination — what geologists call the 'trend.' Of my own life and writings I estimate the giving thanks part, with what it infers, as essentially the best item. I should say the quality of gratitude rounds the whole emotional nature; I should say love and faith would quite lack vitality without it.'"
On November 30, 1905, Thanksgiving Day, Mark Twain (books by this author) turned 70. He wrote: "Every year every person in America concentrates all his thought upon one thing, the cataloguing of his reasons for being thankful to the Deity for the blessings conferred upon him and upon the human race during the expiring twelve months. This is well and as it should be; but it is too one-sided. No one ever seems to think of the Deity's side of it; apparently no one concerns himself to inquire how much or how little He has had to be thankful for during the same period; apparently no one has had good feeling enough to wish He might have a Thanksgiving day too. There is nothing right about this. Do you suppose everything has gone to His satisfaction during the year? Do you believe He is as sweepingly thankful as our nation is going to be, as indicated by the enthusiasms which will appear in the papers on the 30th of this month from the pens of the distinguished persons appointed to phrase its thankfulness on that day?"
In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (2007), Barbara Kingsolver (books by this author) wrote: "Turkeys have walked wild on this continent since the last ice age, whereas Old Europe was quite turkeyless. (That fact alone scored them nearly enough votes to become our national bird, but in the end, I guess, looks do matter.) Corn pudding may be the oldest New World comfort food; pumpkins and cranberries, too, are exclusively ours. It's all American, the right stuff at the right time. To this tasty assembly add a cohort of female relatives sharing work and gossip in the kitchen, kids flopped on the living room floor watching behemoth cartoon characters float down a New York thoroughfare on TV, and men out in the yard pretending they still have the upper-body strength for lateral passes, and this is a perfect American day. If we need a better excuse to focus a whole day on preparing one meal, eating it, then groaning about it with smiles on our faces, just add a dash of humility and hallelujah. Praise the harvest. We made it through one more turn of the seasons."