Once in awhile, a President of the United States makes a proclamation that everyone is happy with. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving an official national holiday.
Prior to signing it into law, Americans unofficially celebrated the fall harvest and bountiful food supply as far back as the 1700s. The purpose was not a day of endless football watching or pre-Christmas spending sprees, but to give thanks to God for all that He provides. Unfortunately, some of the original intent has been lost over the years.
One thing, thankfully, that hasn’t changed is the star of the Thanksgiving table — the turkey. Supporting cast members include stuffing, green bean casseroles, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, gravy and pumpkin pies. But what would Thanksgiving be without a plump, steaming, golden-brown, oven-roasted turkey sitting smack-dab in the middle of the dining room table?
Why turkey and not something else you ask?
Turkeys were elevated to the center of the plate quite frankly because they were less expensive than chickens. Chickens held more value because they laid an egg almost every day. Farmers, country folk and city slickers all enjoyed their bacon and egg breakfasts. Naturally, eggs were used in the preparation of many other dishes.
Why kill the chicken that laid the lovable egg? A roasted chicken represents but one meal, but a live chicken is the gift that keeps on giving at the rate of one egg per day. It should be noted that the roosters did not enjoy the same immunity as the more valuable hens.
The turkey is considerably bigger than a chicken and can feed everyone sitting around the crowded Thanksgiving table. Can you imagine having 10 guests for dinner and placing one three pound oven-roasted chicken in the center of the table? Your hungry guests might decline your next invitation.
The bountiful turkey was popularized as a holiday meal by Charles Dickens. Published in 1843, his classic story, “A Christmas Carol,” starred Ebenezer Scrooge, a grouchy old geezer who was also a tightwad. In the end, after being shown the err of his ways, he gave the biggest turkey at the butcher shop to the impoverished Cratchit family as a Christmas present. The turkey saved the day for them and saved Scrooge from a lonely life of gloom and doom.
Almost everyone has pleasant Thanksgiving memories, usually from their childhood, which supply warm and fuzzy feelings. My childhood memories of Thanksgiving are reflected in Norman Rockwell’s famous Thanksgiving painting which graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Published in 1943 it was appropriately titled, “Freedom from Want” and depicts a joyful family gathering at their dining room table with a roasted turkey.
Thanksgiving will be celebrated in a variety of ways Thursday. Families will gather together in homes across the country, feasting and remembering those who are no longer at the table to share the meal. Some generous souls will volunteer their time and serve dinners in churches, food panties, community centers and homeless shelters.
We can relax and enjoy this national day of thanksgiving knowing that the men and women of our armed forces, police departments, fire departments and emergency medical care are on the job and protecting us from danger.
We hope that at some point during the day, they can be with their families or comrades to share a Thanksgiving meal together. In spite of daily distractions and problems, we all have much for which to be thankful. However, the turkey may not be so thankful.
Ed Hungness and his wife became fulltime residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed’s retirement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633