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A Turkey Tale

Posted on Friday, November 24, 2023
by AMAC, John Grimaldi
Festive celebration roasted turkey with gravy for Thanksgiving

WASHINGTON DC, Nov 24 – Do you feel stuffed? After all, it is the day after Thanksgiving – a celebration of freedom marked by a special dinner with friends and family. The tradition is said to date back to the days of the British colonists, better known as the Pilgrims. However, that event first took place back in 1621 in Plymouth, MA, and there is nothing to tell us that the Pilgrims called it Thanksgiving Day.  In the ensuing years, an unofficial tradition was born throughout the colonies, and today, it is, indeed, known as Thanksgiving.

It was 1789 when President George Washington became the first president to proclaim a Thanksgiving holiday, proclaiming Thursday, November 26 to be a day of national thanksgiving. 

Another 74 years later, on Oct. 3, 1863, when the War Between the States was in full force, President Abraham Lincoln again declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, “hoping to reconcile a country in the throes of the Civil War.” He declared that the last Thursday in November would be ‘a day of Thanksgiving.’ 

More recently, on December 26, 1941, President Franklyn Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Having discussed why Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in November, the next questions are why and how turkeys became the centerpiece of the traditional holiday meal. The consensus is that the Pilgrims and the Native Americans probably had venison as the main course of their so-called Thanksgiving celebration. According to food writer, Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner, in 1621, the Mashpee Wampanoag Indians “farmed and foraged, and ate predominantly beans, corn, roots, and berries. The Native Americans and colonists also ate eggs, fish, shellfish, and some meat, like hunted deer and wild birds (perhaps turkeys among them).” So, how did the turkey become the Thanksgiving treat? 

Hoeffner quotes Professor of History Ken Albala, who writes about the history of foods and points out that “a whole feathered turkey sticking out of a pie was a preparation familiar to colonial settlers. Tart jelly was often served alongside these birds, and cranberries, being local to Massachusetts, fit the bill.” 

Ms. Hoeffner further notes that, for one thing, at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency turkey was nationally recognized as a main dish for celebratory meals. In addition, a popular novel, Northwood: A Tale of New England, by Sarah Josepha Hale, “described a Thanksgiving feast circa 1827, replete with a large family table topped with roasted turkey, gravy, and vegetables. She subsequently lobbied the President to bestow the official status upon Thanksgiving and is often referred to as ‘the Godmother of Thanksgiving’.” Meanwhile, in his popular tale, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wrote about a prized Christmas turkey, thus “replacing the traditional goose with today’s iconic bird.”

John Grimaldi served on the first non-partisan communications department in the New York State Assembly and is a founding member of the Board of Directors of Priva Technologies, Inc. He has served for more than thirty years as a Trustee of Daytop Village Foundation, which oversees a worldwide drug rehabilitation network.

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4 months ago

I loved celebrating Thanksgiving Day with turkey and football but I refuse to celebrate the turkey residing in the White House!

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
4 months ago

What did Joe eat? I don’t think Gerber makes a turkey-flavored baby food…

An older blonde women laughing in the kitchen with a grey haired man.
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