I think there’s probably a reason we get together with relatives once each year to celebrate Thanksgiving and enjoy a huge meal and spend a few hours in front of a football game nobody cares about making small talk. And it’s probably not just the guilt trip our relatives lay on us if we don’t show up.
It’s probably because it’s just once a year. If we had to do it more often, I’m sure Thanksgiving would soon go the way of Sweetest Day, a holiday invented by the Hallmark card company to sell more cards. It went nowhere. Probably not enough guilt associated with it.
Whatever the reason, tomorrow is the big day, unless you’re a turkey. Which means today grocers will be swamped with customers stocking up on all the ingredients that go into a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Traditional, at least, in the sense of what we’ve come to expect on Thanksgiving.
There is no record indicating that the Pilgrims and the Indians ate turkey that first Thanksgiving when they spent three days celebrating their first successful harvest in the New World. More likely it was deer and corn and seafood. And their first attempt at a Thanksgiving Day parade was a complete bust since helium hadn’t been discovered yet and they simply had to drag their balloons along the route.
Someone may have suggested watching the Detroit Lions play football that first Thanksgiving but was soon sidelined with a concussion. Probably induced by the other settlers.
So where did what we now consider to be the traditional Thanksgiving dinner come from? Surprisingly, some of the foods we now associate with a Thanksgiving meal aren’t that traditional or even that old.
Take the quintessential green bean casserole. Please. First, it’s a casserole. If you look the word up in the dictionary the first definition is, “A deep, round usually porcelain dish with a handle used for heating substances in the laboratory.” Yep, we’re all Grandma’s guinea pigs. Throw some leftovers into a bowl, stir it up and see if they’ll eat it and, if they do, see if they survive. If they do, we’ll have it again next year.
But the green bean casserole is a fairly new invention, kind of like bird flu with some of the same aftereffects. It hasn’t been around that long. It can actually be traced back to 1955 when the Campbell’s soup company was looking for new recipes for a cookbook and a way to sell more cream of mushroom soup. So they went into the laboratory and came out with green bean casserole.
The turkey of Turkey Day didn’t become a staple of the traditional feast until the late 1700s when founding father Alexander Hamilton declared, “No citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day!” Of course, Hamilton was killed in a duel, probably with someone who accused him of infringing on his liberty to eat what he chose.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org