The Untold History of Thanksgiving

It’s important to remember the genesis of Thanksgiving, lest we all just start to see it as a stomach-stretching warm up for the actual holidays. The first Thanksgiving was a shared meal between the pilgrims and the Native Americans, one where they gave thanks for all they had and set the tone for who we are and how we celebrate today. It was the first step in our nation’s journey from gratitude to gluttony.

In order to make Thanksgiving a day to remember, they designed the meal around a bird that wouldn’t be roasted again, ever, for the rest of the year. Over the years our forefathers established entire family identities around how this bird was cooked: brined, herbed, slow cooked and of course deep fried. Some might say that the disagreement about the preparation of this bird was the spark that ignited the competitive American spirit.

The bird was to be complimented by starchy foods, and the more the merrier. These menu items introduced the concept of the nap to the New World, a concept that eventually grew into the food coma we enjoy today. The potato was a natural place to start, and over time the meal would also include stuffing, yams, and sweet potatoes. On what other day are you going to eat that many separate carbohydrates, all of which are masked as vegetables? Truly, we have much to be thankful for.

As years went by and elastic waistbands came into vogue, America took the leap forward to adorn the (already) sweet potato with butter and marshmallows, giving hope to all that we might one day earn the title of “fattest country on earth.”

On the third Thanksgiving, one pilgrim woman complained. She feared the change she saw in her village. Her children had given up scampering in favor of lumbering. Everyone was too tired to schlepp to the well, and very few villagers were using the outhouse. She insisted that a green vegetable be included in the Thanksgiving meal. The pilgrims gathered and discussed options with their Native American counterparts and came to the first ever compromise on North American soil: green beans would be allowed at the meal, as long as they were smothered in creamy soup and topped with deep fried onions from a can. Peace was restored in the land.

Americans invented the expression, “More is more.” In that spirit, dessert was added to this meal. The first Americans shared just one pumpkin pie, which was fine until they branched out and realized that nearly anything is delicious when mixed with sugar and baked in a pie shell. People began to argue about which type of pie to serve. They whined, “It’s just not Thanksgiving without a pecan pie!” Crowds nodded their agreement, adding that the same can be said about apple pies, rhubarb pies, chocolate cream pies and cheesecake.

That’s how it came to pass that in any Thanksgiving gathering there will be one full dessert per person. A pie for every pie hole. There’s an innate American need, fostered over hundreds of years, to try just a sliver of each and every one. Because, after all, we don’t want this cornucopia to go to waste. That would make us ungrateful and at odds with the very meaning of this holiday.