A Pre-Turkey Post

There’s something to be said for writing about the history of holidays, and the one that’s nearly upon us is a great example.

Just about the time your Halloween pumpkin rots down to a puddle of orange slag, Ta-Da — it’s time for Thanksgiving. Second only to Christmas in popularity, Thanksgiving is one of those rare holidays which doesn’t focus as much on religion or patriotism as it does on over-eating and football.

Even the Canadians have Thanksgiving, though they choose to celebrate it earlier than we do, most likely because they know the snow’s coming, and they’d best get in one last celebration before they’re forced into hibernation. As we’re prone to saying here in the deep, (warm) south, “Bless their hearts; they’re mounting their snow chains.”

But, back to Thanksgiving on this side of the border. There are some little-known but curious facts which bubble up during a search of historical references to this holiday and its American traditions. Since we’ve been discussing history, this is probably as good a time as any to share them.

Many of us focus solely on the traditional Thanksgiving feast. A vast amount of time and energy go into the preparation — and consumption — of this annual nod to gluttony. Don’t believe it? Then explain why we serve up about 535 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving Day. That’s over two pounds per adult. [Burp!] It’s serious business. In fact, according to the National Turkey Foundation (a real thing, by the way), the American turkey industry boasts an economic impact on the US of $97.5 billion bucks.

With so much turkey on the table, the great majority of Americans are doing their part to eat it. In fact, the average American will gobble down 4,500 calories on T-Day. That’s broken down by food: 3,000 and snacks: 1,500. Estimates for the number of calories in beer, wine, and sundry other spirits are not available.

And what Thanksgiving meal would be complete without green bean casserole? Thank Campbell’s soup for that. They put the recipe in a cookbook half a century ago and now harvest $20 million annually selling cream of mushroom soup.

After the meal, many of us waddle to the nearest sofa and settle in to sleep through an NFL football game on the tube. But the tradition of  NFL games played on Thanksgiving day didn’t start until the 1930s. The “real” first Thanksgiving day football game was in 1876, between Yale and Princeton. The latter’s cheer, by the way, “Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Tiger! S-s-s-t! Boom! A-h-h-h!” dates back to the following year and remains in use with slight modifications today.

Eventually, we’ll succumb to what we misguidedly believe is the effect of the tryptophan we’ve ingested thanks to the turkey. Not so. There’s more of that sleep inducer in the average chicken. We get dopey because of all the other stuff we ate and mostly drank, and digesting that takes energy.

We then drift off to sleep dreaming about turkeys and/or cheerleaders. With any luck, we won’t dream about “Turkasaurus,” the recently discovered, prehistoric critter more correctly called the anzu. Some clearly delusional reporter types referred to it as the “Chicken from hell.” They obviously failed to look at the skeleton or the artist’s renderings. This was no chicken as anyone can plainly see.

And while domestic turkeys usually weigh twice as much as wild turkeys and are too large to fly, the anzu had all the necessary ingredients to terrify the average clan of cave-dwelling proto-humans, if only they existed back in the late Cretaceous.

Anzu stood over 11 feet tall and probably weighed around 600 pounds, maybe more. It had the body of a raptor, the head of a turkey, and the crest of a cassowary; it sported big sharp claws and, almost certainly, feathers. That’s enough to keep me awake!

But, lest we end on a carnivorous note, this is probably a good time to toss in something less creepy. Like, oh I dunno, a poem. How ’bout “Mary Had A Little Lamb?” Most of which was written by Sarah Josepha Hale. Why is that important? ‘Cause she’s the one who convinced Abe Lincoln in 1863 that declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday would be a good idea. “Black Friday” retailers should have been thanking her ever since.

–Josh

 

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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6 Responses to A Pre-Turkey Post

  1. An-l says:

    Interesting, Josh! I liked and enjoyed this story. However, most people forget what Thanksgiving is really set aside for, not just for eating and football, but to give thanks. So, I will add to your story by saying, ‘I am thankful for you.” For your friendship, outstanding teaching, and writing ability — I give thanks! Happy Thanksgiving! Oh, I will be eating and watching football too.

  2. Gerald Flinchum says:

    Great post Josh. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

    • joshlangston says:

      Ditto, my friend! By the by, I was sorely tempted to add in some information about how “Turkey Shoots” came about, but I was already running a little long. Maybe next time!

  3. Thank you for the education. I hadn’t realized there was so much about Thanksgiving that we were unaware of. It definitely sounds like something my father-in-law would spew on about. I’m glad I learned these things from you.

  4. joshlangston says:

    Not all holidays have the same level of trivia available, but researching them can be fun. Why not out-spew your father-in-law? Come loaded for bear. Good luck, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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