I get that Thanksgiving is an important holiday in the United States and many other countries as well and I am all for finding any reason at all to get the whole family together a few times a year and have a great meal and spend time with each other. What I don’t always get is the Turkey part. When did that come in? Has it always been about the Turkey? It likely has not. Early pilgrim festivities are said to have included many other, more readily available types of fowl and seafood, like lobster, duck, seal, eel and cod. And there is also something amiss with the story of Thanksgiving as such. For starters, where was the first thanksgiving celebration in North America? Most people assume it was the well-known 1621 harvest celebration of the Pilgrims in New England. But beyond the many myths associated with that event, there are other claims to the first American thanksgiving celebration. These include Juan Ponce De Leon’s landing in Florida in 1513, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s service of thanksgiving in the Texas Panhandle in 1541, as well as two claims for thanksgiving observances in Jamestown, Virginia — in 1607 and 1610.
But the offering of thanks at harvest time is not unique to America. Such observances are known to have been held by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and many other cultures throughout history. The American celebration itself is an historically recent development, in fact connected only tenuously to any of the so-called “first” thanksgivings. The American thanksgiving of 1621 was all but forgotten until the 19th century. The 1621 event was not repeated, and what many consider the first authentic Calvinist, religious thanksgiving did not take place until 1623 in Plymouth Colony. Even then it was celebrated only occasionally in some regions for decades, and has only been a U.S. national holiday on the fourth Thursday in November since the 1940s. President Lincoln declared a national Day of Thanksgiving on October 3, 1863. But it was a one-time event, and future Thanksgiving observances were based on the whims of various presidents until President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill creating the current holiday in 1941.
My own understanding of Thanksgiving was formed by my upbringing in Germany. We have what’s called Erntedankfest, which is a harvest festival and most often associated with the church. Farmers would bring samples of what mother earth has allowed them to harvest to the altar to be blessed and then shared with the congregation.
Amongst the offering there was always freshly baked rye or sourdough bread that is moist and dense with a thick crunchy crust. Germany is renowned for it’s many bread varieties and rightly proud of it’s artisan breads. Yes, admittedly our cuisine is heavy on the starches but nothing beats a slice of freshly baked German bread. The loaves where usually made as little single portion loaves for the festival so that everyone could have their own.
Fresh beets, radishes and carrots were another staple item at the event and the taste of fresh bread and a white radish with a bit of salt still lingers to this day.
Fall fruit would often round off the offerings.
And finally, depending on the region there was always wine or beer to be had as one would expect from a proper German festival. I grew up in Wuerzburg, a beautiful postcard of a town in Frankonia that is renowned for its, mostly dry wines that are often sold in round bottles called Bocksbeutel.
Renowned in an interesting way. Everyone in Germany knows Frankonian wine but very few people outside of the country do. This has largely to do with hardly any of it being made for export. Winemakers refuse to join larger trade groups that would further export and are quite happy to produce just enough to sell to their local clientele. While I hate hardly ever being able to buy some in the US I have full respect for what’s happening there. And yes, even as a little girl I was a given a glass of wine or a Schorle (mixed with sparkling water). Wine is part of life and I think i turned out alright despite that.
There are of course festivals all over where people sit down and eat their fare share of goose, duck or venison for the celebration but to me, the most memorable part was not about gorging myself and then spending the afternoon barely conscious on the couch. It was about the simplicity of the even and the texture and taste of each piece of fruit, vegetable and bread. Not cooked or processed but as they were intended.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers and to the talented and insightful bloggers we’ve had the chance to meet through Let’s Blog Off. Please be sure to read what these fine folks have to say about the holiday. I’m certain some great new recipes will be part of this.
|Paul Anater||@paul_anater||Kitchen and Residential Design|
|Nick Lovelady||@cupboards||Cupboards Kitchen and Bath|
|Sean Lintow, Sr.||@SLSconstruction||Homeowners & Trades Resource Center|
|Amy Good||@Splintergirl||Thoughts of a Splinter Girl|
|Cindy FrewenWuellner||@Urbanverse||Urbanverse’s Posterous|
|Steve Mouzon||@stevemouzon||Original Green|
|Saxon Henry||@saxonhenry||Roaming by Design|
|David Mathias||@woodandlight||Greene and Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood and Light|
|Denese Bottrell||@Denese_Bottrell||Thoughtful Content|
|Betsy De Maio||@egrgirl||Just Sayin’|
|Ginny Powell||@GinnyPowell||In The Loop|