Gobble! Gobble! Here’s to Turkey Day

Gobble Gobble! Thanksgiving Feast.

Thanksgiving has historically been the most cherished holiday in my family, perhaps because its focus is food — and my mom is a fantastic cook. From as far back as I can remember, we always had Thanksgiving at our house, inviting our few local relatives as well as friends without family in the area.

I have so many memories around Thanksgiving — far too many to note here — so here are a few highlights from over the years:

  • Mom’s top oven gave her some trouble one year; I believe she couldn’t get it open at one point — and that’s where the turkey was cooking. I’m not sure if that led to her using a Weber grill to cook the turkey outside in subsequent years, even when she had to deal with cold weather and sometimes snow.

  • As small children, there was always an argument about who got to participate in breaking the wishbone, since there were three of us kids. I honestly don’t recall how it was decided, but if I had to guess, I’d bet money my dad said the two youngest — not me — had the honor.

  • We introduced boyfriends and girlfriends to our family at Thanksgiving, since my mom always said the more the merrier. After my friend Roseann’s inaugural visit, she produced a hilarious memento of the occasion, artfully drawn cartoons depicting things from her point of view. It still makes me laugh today.

  • The first Thanksgiving after our dad died was extremely difficult. It had only been about six months from his untimely death when turkey day came around. After we girls gifted our mom with a portrait of her and dad, our nephew, Gabe, almost 2 years old, lightened the mood by pointing at it and yelling out “Papa!!” Not be to outdone, his big sister, Jenna, who was 4, later caused peals of laughter when she yelled from the close-by bathroom, “mom, it’s a hard poop!” Ah, kids.

Most years, I made it home for Thanksgiving, doing the horrible Wednesday-Sunday travel via plane to Chicago initially and later to Florida. But I did skip some years, once to make the holiday meal for my then-boyfriend — when I learned it really isn’t that hard to cook a turkey — and another time to travel from San Jose to Anaheim with a girlfriend to see a hockey game the day after Thanksgiving. I must say it felt really odd eating Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant that year.

Since that first time without dad, my family hasn’t had a Thanksgiving meal together. I spent many years traveling to Chicago to celebrate with my sister’s family, which alternated between hosting it and traveling about an hour south to go to her sister-in-law’s home. These Thanksgivings were very different from the Moch holidays, because they featured at least seven small children — my niece and nephew and some of their many cousins.

One of my fondest memories from a Thanksgiving held at my sister’s house was making a centerpiece for the table with Jenna and Gabe, using construction paper and my annual gift of chocolate turkeys. I can best describe it as being the opposite of sophisticated — but heartfelt in its own clumsy way.

I’ve also made the choice not to travel for Thanksgiving a few times, enjoying a holiday meal with friends or pretending it’s just another day. One year, a friend and I decided to treat ourselves to a late breakfast on Thanksgiving at a waterfront restaurant — and the day was turkey-less for me.

Last year, for the first time in many years, I traveled to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with my mom and youngest sister. There were just four of us at dinner, and as a result my mom showed some restraint in only making three desserts instead of her usual five or six. We had a great meal, one that made me wistful for the days when our whole family was around the table.

This year, I won’t be traveling for Thanksgiving. I’ve decided it isn’t worth it to me to pay the exorbitant fares the airlines charge to fly around the holiday; I’ll be visiting in early December, when it’s more affordable. I haven’t made any plans yet for Thanksgiving 2018, and may not end up doing anything special, perhaps just spending some “quality time” with my dog, who of course will be oblivious that it’s a holiday.

Cubbie, my four-legged love, certainly knows nothing about Thanksgiving — but how much do you know? Let’s see!

It’s widely accepted that Thanksgiving began as a feast between the Pilgrims and Native Americans at Plymouth in 1621. From a Time article, here are five things we know about that meal:

  • More than 100 people attended — at least 90 native men and 50 Englishmen.

  • They ate for three days — since the natives traveled on foot for two days to attend, they stayed awhile.

  • The menu was topped by deer — venison was the headliner, although fowl and fish also were on the menu, including a great store of wild turkeys.

  • It wasn’t called Thanksgiving — and it wasn’t until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

  • The peace was short-lived — for about 10 years, when the arrival of thousands of new settlers prompted a fight for land and rising animosity.

Now how about some Thanksgiving trivia? Some of these questions may stump you!

Q. Which president was the first to give a turkey a presidential pardon?

A. Ronald Reagan, who did it in 1987. John F. Kennedy is the first president on record for unofficially sparing a turkey in 1963, but it didn’t get an official presidential pardon.

Q. What state raises the most turkeys?

A. Minnesota comes in first, followed by North Carolina and Arkansas.

Q. What food was present at the first Thanksgiving that is rarely eaten on Thanksgiving now?

A. Seafood. Back then, Plymouth Colony relied heavily on fishing, so there was plenty of cod, bass and other fish at the inaugural Thanksgiving.

Q. What decade was the green bean casserole — a Thanksgiving staple in many households — first created?

A. In the 1950s, specifically 1955, by the Campbell Soup Company.

Q. When were the first pumpkin pies as we know them made?

A. In the 1600s, in England and Europe. Although the pumpkin is native to North America, it wasn’t until the 19th century that pumpkin pies as we know them started showing up in American cookbooks.

Q. What culture produced the idea of the cornucopia, horn of plenty?

A. That would be the Greeks, as the cornucopia is very prevalent in Greek mythology.

Q. When is Canada’s Thanksgiving?

A. The second Monday of October. FYI, it shares many aspects of American Thanksgiving, including turkey.

Q. Where is the only place in Australia where Thanksgiving is celebrated?

A. Norfolk Island, where the custom was brought by American whaling ships and stuck.

From its humble beginnings, Thanksgiving has become one of the biggest holidays of the year; for many people, the celebration extends past the Thursday feast and lasts all weekend. While it remains a time for families to gather, I think it’s unfortunate that this holiday has become less about giving thanks and more about shopping and watching football over the years.

What do you think about Thanksgiving’s evolution? And what are your family’s traditions for the big day? We’d love to hear them!

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