Jon de Vos " Thanksgiving: Patience, prudence and giblets
November 21, 2008
The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in the fall of 1621, when four unlucky women, one of them likely named, Charity, got to cook, serve, and clean up after dinner for 56 Pilgrims and 91 Indians. The Indians were invited because they brought the turkeys. Pilgrims were early American settlers from Europe who named their children after hoped-for virtues like Humility and Chastity while setting their neighbor’s barns on fire to ward off witches. Crops failed the following year and the Pilgrims never celebrated Thanksgiving again.
One hundred and fifty years passed before the nation again sat down in thanksgiving, this time to celebrate the unlikely American victory of the Battles of Saratoga, a major turning point of the American War of Independence.
In 1777, two forks of the British army attacked out of Canada with a plan to drive a military wall between New England and the rest of the barely United States. The major branch of the attack, over 15,000 strong, was led by British General Burgoyne, and a smaller group led by General Howe, whose mission was to widen the breach by riding east of Burgoyne, yet remaining able to quickly come to his aid if needed. Howe deviated from the plan to score an easy victory over the town of Philadelphia. The distraction rendered his troops unable to come to Burgoyne’s aid in two close and critical battles of the war, the Battles of Saratoga. Things had gone badly for the revolution. Much of the American force had been weakened and decimated through General Washinton’s fruitless and unsuccessful invasion of Canada. Burgoyne’s early speed and successes were disheartening.
In another British blunder, Burgoyne decided to march his troops overland instead of sailing down the Hudson, tiring his men and allowing the Americans to rest and regroup at Saratoga. The Battles of Saratoga waged for weeks until October 17, 1777, when General Burgoyne surrendered his remaining 6,000 troops with only 4,000 standing. Their first job as prisoners was to bury the 9,000 British and German soldiers who perished there.
Later in December 1777, now President George Washington invited the nation to sit down together every Dec. 18 to party like Pilgrims and give thanks for America’s bounty and freedom. But the idea never caught on because many felt that the hardships endured by the Pilgrims were too insignificant to be honored with a national holiday. Thomas Jefferson publicly condemned the feast.
Recognition of Thanksgiving as a national feast day in America is due to the efforts of Sara Josepha Hale, America’s first woman editor of a national magazine. Her editorials in the Boston Ladies’ Magazine often argued for the setting aside of a day to “offer to God our tribute of joy and gratitude for the blessings of the year.”
In 1863, a bitterly divided nation fought at Gettysburg and was stunned by the staggering loss of 50,000 lives. Nonetheless, it was an important victory for the North.
A ringing and widely circulated editorial by Mrs. Hale reached the attention of Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed that the last Thursday of November would be set aside for a national day of Thanksgiving.
So, on to the really big question, “Is there meat in minced meat pies?” For the answer, we turn to no less an authority than Betty Crocker, the totally fictional homemaker dreamed up by General Mills in 1921 to educate America on more ways to use General Mills products. The first Betty Crocker cookbook, published in 1950, called for the hearts of two oxen and made 16 generous portions.
Minced meat pie? No, thanks. The doc says I should cut back on ox.
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