It is a day set aside for the gathering of family and friends. It is a day of feasts and football, of pilgrims and parades. Most importantly, it is a day that we are to stop for a moment and be grateful for all that we have. Often containing equal portions of relaxation and chaos, Thanksgiving may have various mixed emotions attached to it, but it is a tradition that we’ve collectively celebrated, through thick and thin, throughout our entire history as a nation.
The genesis of Thanksgiving is admittedly a bit murky but we’ll stick with the generally accepted tradition here. We are taught that, in the early 1600s, shortly after the arrival of the pilgrims from Europe, the settlers celebrated their first harvest, and their gratitude for surviving thus far, by engaging in a great feast with their Native-American hosts. Flash forward 150 years or so, and George Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving to be a celebration of victory over the British at Saratoga. Leap to the next century and we find that Abe Lincoln declared it a National Holiday in 1863, amidst the Civil War. FDR got into the act in 1939, designating the fourth, rather than the previously accepted fifth, Thursday of the month as the official turkey day.
But enough with the history, let’s talk about the food.
Over the centuries, the traditional menu of turkey, stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes and squash has been enhanced significantly, with the inclusion of numerous culinary delights in recent years. In fact, most families have their own unique version of the food spread that they stick to every year. With turkey being a somewhat bland meat, moms have also conceived a number of alternate ways to cook up a more flavorful version, with the days of just sticking one in the oven giving way to exciting new innovations. Some now prefer to smoke their bird, while others like to deep-fry – some even get injected with various substances before they are cooked for a more flavorful fowl.
Of course, with all of this food preparation came significant stress for the providers (which probably accounts for the growing number of people that choose to let a restaurant serve their meal). For those that chose to brave the experience, preparing a dozen dishes, while watching a turkey AND being jovial and entertaining to the numerous guests lingering around the kitchen, tempers have been known to run a little short, especially when the meal gets delayed by unforeseen circumstances.
For a kid, the stretch of time leading up to dinner has always been a tad boring, with too many adults jabbering away, and very little to keep one occupied, especially when you were at someone else’s house. One thing we all quickly learned, however, was that it was best to steer clear of the minefield otherwise known as the kitchen, knowing that mom already had her hands plenty full – and likely a pretty short fuse. Luckily, there’s always been one surefire way to battle the holiday boredom, and avoid the relatives that wanted to talk your ear off – just switch on the television and tune in to the parade.
A time-honored tradition of the holiday, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was started in 1924 and regular television broadcasts began in the 40s. The star attractions are the humongous helium-filled balloons that slowly make their way down 34th Street. Over the years, cultural icons such as Mickey Mouse, Superman, Bullwinkle, Smokey Bear, Betty Boop, Kermit the Frog, Babar the Elephant, Barney and the Pillsbury Doughboy have earned their lofty place in the parade. As fun as the balloons are to watch, however, they have also been the source of numerous injuries thanks to often-unpredictable weather conditions. Popeye, Raggedy Ann, Sonic the Hedgehog and even Barney have all created their share of havoc at the parade. Today, weather forecasts are taken a little more seriously, and balloons now fly much lower to the ground if high winds are present. Alongside these behemoth balloons, numerous Broadway show casts also perform at the parade, as well as Hollywood celebrities and, of course, marching bands. And then, there’s the grand finale, the appearance of Santa Claus, letting all of us kids know he is alive and well. All in all, there is plenty of entertainment value in the Macy’s day parade, and many kids hold vivid memories of sitting in front of the television, enthralled by the parade and eager to see Santa as the house fills with the aromas of a grand meal under way.
And once the parade has wound down, once all the ravenous beasts we lovingly refer to as family have devoured the smorgasbord of food, many of us take part in perhaps the most beloved ritual of the holiday, a well-deserved, turkey-induced, nap. And hopefully, amidst all the hoopla, we all found a chunk of time along the way to remember to be thankful for all that we have – for our family, friends, good fortune and a slightly larger waist size.
If you have fond memories of Thanksgivings past, or perhaps an entertaining horror story, we welcome all of your memories in our comments section, as we reflect upon this special holiday, here at Retroland.