Columns » Bob Lancaster

Grace, ’07

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I've assembled here some Thanksgiving lore, some little-known true facts about Thanksgiving, and some tips for making your holiday celebration more enjoyable and more pious. You're welcome to use the material, free of charge, with or without attribution, to amuse or astonish your friends and loved ones. Some assembly may be required. But there's nothing from China so you can relax on that score. Enjoy.

• At the first Thanksgiving, the Native American contingent were permitted to provide, prepare, and serve the feast, but if they wanted to eat they had to take leftovers in the kitchen with the womenfolk. Also, no jokes permitted in there about how the palefaces didn't need utensils because they could just stab the vittles with their forked tongues.

• The Indian Fathead is a bigger seller this season than the Pilgrim Fathead.

• If you study the symbols in Leonardo da Vinci's painting “The First (Thanksgiving) Dinner,” you'll discover a secret code, which, though it hasn't been completely deciphered, is thought to give a new and dramatically different account of the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

• Thanksgiving is the only holiday mentioned in the Bible — except the Jewish holidays, which, in the prevailing U.S. view, are just a lot of to-do about nothing.

• A blight in 1927 killed all the cherry tomatoes, which up to that time had been the source of the official Thanksgiving relish. A White House chef came up with cranberry sauce as a substitute that same year, but President and Mrs. Coolidge shunned the stuff, fearing that it might ferment and make them drunk, causing them to engage in uncharacteristic loud and uncouth behavior.

• There's been a boring pro football game between bad teams on TV every Thanksgiving afternoon since 1953. This game usually involves the Detroit Lions, but only if they're having a poor year, which they nearly always are. The game is thought to be the main reason for this statistic: There are 27 per cent more post-noonmeal sitting-up siestas in the United States on Thanksgiving Day than on any other day of the year.

• The grace at that first Thanksgiving table really consisted of only eight words, a rhyme spoken by one of the Winthrop boys: “Good bread, good meat. Good God, let's eat.”

• Those first Thanksgiving Indians were Hiawathas, an Ojibway-related tribe that invented the war chant later used by Florida State and the Atlanta Braves as accompaniment to their tomahawk-chop go-team whoop. They're seldom given credit for it, but the Hiawathas also invented the stadium “wave.” Today they're best known for their giant casino.

• The ACLU has tried for years to have God thrown out of Thanksgiving, as he was thrown out of the public-school classroom and the high-school football stadium press-box, but so far God has held them off. A lower court did once uphold an Oregon law that banned the expression “giving thanks” as unconstitutionally implying a Higher Power, and the judge recommended “Appreciate it” or “Mighty obliged” as reasonable alternatives, but all parties in that case finally decided the matter was just too silly for adjudication and went out and got drunk.

• The most popular Thanksgiving main dish in America's trailer parks, according to the Mobile Homes Manufacturing Association's research and development division, is chicken pot pie, served en foile. And the most common parental response to trailer youngsters who ask for Thanksgiving seconds is to slap them upside the head and tell them to “go on out and play.”

Almost all the Thanksgivings before 1890 featured buffalo meat or passenger pigeon, and for some years after that, rabbit was the preferred entree. There was actually more call for owl than turkey in the Progressive Era. Squirrel dumplings salvaged Thanksgiving for millions during the Depression, and while romantics dreamed of candied yams as a side, realists knew they were lucky if they got candied turnips.

• The Prosperity Gospel windbags don't think you ought to feel guilty about having so much on this Thanksgiving Day while so many have so little, but if you do feel a small pang during grace, they suggest assuaging it — and squaring things better with your conscience and the Lord — by sending them a larger pledge instead of wasting the money on such foolishness as buying drumsticks for orphans you don't even know.

• Pumpkin pie became a popular Thanksgiving staple only after several generations, when cooks learned that you get a smoother and tastier filling if you leave out the stems and seeds.

• It's not considered good form when saying Thanksgiving grace to address your diety of choice as “Dude!”

• And finally, an Associated Press feature story last week had some nifty suggestions for pepping up your Thanksgiving if it has become dull and predictable. One of the suggestions — and not the stupidest one, either — was that you take the turkey from the roasting pan and make it strut along a counter top in a kind of puppet show Radio City chorus line while a family member ventriloquizes a rousing show tune, perhaps “Sewanee” in the Al Jolson styling.

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