Thanksgiving Turkey

A bit of odd lore regarding thanksgiving and its consumptive traditions, gathered from an 1898 book, Curiosities of Popular Customs and of Rites, Ceremonies, Observances, and Miscellaneous Antiquities, by William S. Walsh (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott): 

The first thanksgiving held in North America was in 1578, in Newfoundland, and conducted by an English minister named Wolfall. The earliest record of some form of thanksgiving service within the present U.S. was in Maine in August of 1607.

The first full-day observance of thanksgiving was proclaimed by Governor Bradford, the first governor of the Massachusetts Colony, in 1621, following a successful harvest. “In practical furtherance of his proclamation, he at once set out four men in search of game. Thus early in the history of the day does our good friends the turkey make his appearance; for, successful in their quest, the four sportsmen returned, struggling under a burden of wild fowl, principally turkeys, sufficient to meet the wants of the little colony for a week.”

The author goes on to describe: “After the services followed the dinner, whose savory odors seem to have penetrated the forest’s fastnesses, for in the midst of the festivities an Indian shout was heard, and ninety friendly red men, under King Massasoit, appeared as if by magic, bearing as an addition to the feast huge haunches of venison.” Didn’t he feel ridiculous even as he wrote this?

The Thanksgiving festival became an official event in Massachusetts in 1684, then in other New England colonies. Because of the Puritans’ “hatred of Christmas as a relic of ‘Popish mummery’” (the Puritans rejected all Catholic aspects of worship that were not strictly and literally mentioned in the Bible), they also rejected what were then traditional Christmas meats like beef, boar, plum-pudding, and mince pie. The turkey (and pumpkin pie), being native to the U.S., seemed untainted by the Christmas tradition, so New Englanders largely embraced the gobble. (In the early 1700s of Rhode Island and Connecticut, however, venison or boar was the main meat rather than turkey.)

By the time of the author’s writing, a happy acceptance of Christmas traditions meant that the two meals became largely “unified”; the turkey “has driven the Christmas goose from all tables; and on the other hand the mince pie of Christmas shares the honor of completing the Thanksgiving indigestion with the pumpkin pie which once monopolized the work.”

The early origin of the Thanksgiving parade? “Another somewhat strange way of observing the holiday in New York has been, up to very recent years, to dress one self in the most fantastic costume imaginable and parade the streets…. Hundreds of companies of these motley persons, under some such name as the ‘Square Black rangeres,’ the ‘Slenderfoot Army,’ or the ‘Original Hounds,’ and dressed chiefly, as an old account says, as ‘clowns, Yankees, Irishmen, kings, washerwomen, and courtiers,’ thronged the streets all day. These ‘ragamuffin parades’ have fallen into disuse except for a few small boys, but as recently as 1885 they were in full swing….”

And lastly, a popular ode to the thanksgiving turkey that circulated during the 19th century:

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