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Traditions: The Story Behind Thanksgiving Turkey

by Elizabeth N. Wilson

Americans and Canadians travel miles to be with their loved ones during Thanksgiving Day. The national holiday is marked by a great feast of; bread stuffing, cranberries, gravy, pumpkin/sweet potato pie, potatoes, and the famous thanksgiving turkey. The day is dedicated to appreciating the blessings of the year and carries with its rich traditions and folklores.

In ancient times, Plymouth’s Thanksgiving was a day for hunting ducks, geese, and fowls. The prey for the day would then serve as food for the next week. Later on, approximately a hundred Wampanoag intimidated the colonialists during the feast by making a surprise appearance.

Over the first couple of days, the two cultures mingled, and the people helped each other during the festivities. However, there was still a significant issue of the language barrier. As time passed and families drifted apart, Thanksgiving became a day to unite and give thanks. But what is that without the glorious turkey?

The First Thanksgiving

When Thanksgiving became an official national holiday, the event was marked by the famous ‘First thanksgiving.’ It took place in 1621 and was held by English colonialists (pilgrims) and Wampanoag people. The colony had their first harvest, and these special days were for prayer, not festivities.

At this time, turkey may not have been a primary part of the meal. In letters written by Pilgrims, the feast was made up of wildfowl. The idea was attaining acceptance at this time but was not official yet. Therefore, many presidents did their best to give the holiday a profound meaning.

Whenever turkey was included in the three-day celebration, it would be in variations:

Day 1: pieces of beef, lamb or pork, and uncut wildfowl were cooked above coal fire. There were no ovens then.

Day 2 and 3: the venison pieces roasted on the first day would be used to make stews and broths. Additionally, the wildfowl was fit to burst with nuts, onions, and native basils.

Unlike today, the meals did not comprise of sugary pies, cranberries, and bread stuffing.

1779 through 1886 Thanksgiving Menu

The carte du jour in 1779 listed lamb or pork, veal pieces, pigeon pies, roast goose, and of course, roast turkey. Because beef was not as available as modern days, Pilgrims preferred wildfowl and turkey as sources of animal protein.

In the 1880s, the turkey had started gaining popularity during these days of feasting and giving thanks. Many cookbooks at the time mentioned that tables were no longer loaded with chunks of different roasted meats. Instead, the meal comprised of the centerpiece, a roast turkey, accompanied by fish, a variety of potages, and vegetables.

The vitality of Turkey during Thanksgiving in The 1900s

As this holiday continued to become more important, so did having turkey as a tradition. Turkey became so fundamental that it maintained high sales even during the Great Depression. Accordingly, about 10 million pounds of turkey were shipped to soldiers at war in 1946.

In 1963, a new practice that only proved how integral turkey commenced. The Presidential Retrieve, begun after the then president, J. F. Kennedy allowed a fifty-five-pound turkey to live. Since 1989, thanks to President George H.W. Bush, a distinctive turkey is pardoned by the POTUS while his chums end up on our ceremonial dinner boards.

Even though turkey might have been extinct at some point, up-to-date- technology and breeding strategies boost the numbers to millions. This guarantees their prestigious place at the Thanksgiving dinner table progresses.

Rational Reasons that made Turkey a Better Option

Other than the importance of turkey during Thanksgiving meals, more factors made the turkey the best selection. These are:

  • Turkey is reasonably large and can easily feed a family.
  • Turkey was later specifically bred for meals and not like other poultry or animals that lay eggs or produce milk.
  • Moreover, the turkey was less common as compared to other meats.

Controversies involving Thanksgiving

In the current day and time, some Native Americans, amongst others, have a problem with how the holiday is portrayed and taught in schools. Apart from merry usually associated with the feast, massive bloodshed and clashes between Pilgrims and Wampanoag are often covered. Some marchers gather and celebrate a day of mourning during the same days as Thanksgiving.

No matter the myths, misconceptions, or ancient customs, it is definite that Americans and Canadians will keep celebrating this holiday. It is a way of uniting families and friends all over the states while giving thanks for blessings throughout the year.

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