I can remember with dead-certain clarity when my sainted mother would reach over from the front seat of that big Buick to administer one of her patented whistling backhanders. For some reason she aimed them at me and blamed me for every back seat riot. Then she would say invariably, “Ruin every Sunday. Ruin every holiday.”
In that family vein, let us review your cherished beliefs surrounding the holidays, specifically, Thanksgiving. For my holiday ruination, I usually check History News Network (HNN) for they employ some wonderful iconoclasts.
Naturally everyone believes that those Pilgrims initiated the stomach-stretching holiday at Plymouth Mass., long before even the Hartings moved there. Not so, say my researchers at HNN. No, it was those Texans of all people. The first Thanksgiving was held in San Elizario (near El Paso) in 1598. According to my Roslindale High School math, that was a whopping23 years before those Pilgrims. The Texans were celebrating the arrival of explorer Juan de Onate at the Rio Grande River. He had led the settlers across 350 miles of Mexican deserts and they were glad to get to the river, any river.
Our Pilgrims aren’t even in second place. The HNN types report that the Berkeley Plantation (Not that Berkeley) on the James River in Virginia celebrated their Thanksgiving on Dec. 4, 1619, edging out those Plymouth Pretenders by two years. Forget the famous Mayflower that got all the publicity. It was the mighty Margaret that brought 38 souls across the Atlantic from England in 1619. It is the Margaret that should be in the history books, calendars and television shows.
That holiday ruined yet?
As you are setting the tables (and praying to God that Frank Renew doesn’t show up) be aware that the Pilgrim menu is highly uncertain. What is certain is that they had no corn, apples, pears, potatoes (no potatoes?) or even cranberries. They were much more likely to be eating deer than turkey. By the way, table forks had not been invented yet so they tore apart the meat with their hands. Try that at your table, just for laughs. All of those Pilgrim menu myths were invented by the Victorians generations later without even using the Internet. You probably don’t know that Thanksgiving did not become a national holiday until 1863, when Abe Lincoln passed one of his proclamations. Before that, it was strictly a New England phenomenon.
You can forget about all that Plymouth Rock malarkey, too. Apparently it was dreamed up decades later by the Plymouth Chamber of commerce to drum (get it?) up some badly needed publicity to attract the tourists. Historian George Willison said the rock-myth was the solitary creation of 95-year-old Thomas Faunce, who told the story about a century after the alleged landing. For your information, the Pilgrims landed first at Provincetown, before moving down the coast.
While you are at it, forget about those log cabin stories. HNN reports that the Swedes and Germans introduced the log cabin to America, decades after the Pilgrims landed. Those chilly Pilgrims used wood clapboards fashioned at nearby lumber mills.
The website Education.Com chips in to debunk all those paintings with Pilgrims dressed in formal black wear and the Indians dressed in loincloths. First of all, only the wealthy elite of New England ever wore those black suits. When paintings were done generations later, the Victorians decided on the Pilgrim costumes. But the average Pilgrim would have been dressed in russets, browns, beiges and blues. There were certainly no buckles on their hats either. That was an 18nth century anachronism. You can bet your bottom dollar there were no loincloths on the Indians, either, not in chilly November. Not in New England. They were more likely to be dressed in deerskins.
Well, if we have e ruined your traditional Thanksgiving beliefs, our work is done here. But it least it will give you something to talk about around the holiday table, instead of listening to David Grima talking about those English Thanksgivings.
More stuffing anyone? Who made that gravy?