Monday, November 20, 2006

The Unauthorized History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the Jan Brady of holidays. Unfairly jammed between Halloween and the annual Christmas Juggernaut, poor Thanksgiving barely draws enough interest to get the family together for a turkey-fueled afternoon of football. And when the Detroit Lions are playing the football for you, how big can the celebration really be?

The marginalization of the Thanksgiving holiday is the culmination of a long conspiracy of misdirection, misinformation, and outright deception. These days, the accepted Thanksgiving myth is nothing more than a twisted aberration of half-truths and irresponsible, fill-in-the-blanks journalism. Here then, is a complete deconstruction of our forgotten national holiday…

It is wrongly supposed that the first Thanksgiving dinner was a mutual celebration of two neighboring cultures, but nothing could be farther from the truth. For one thing, the identities of both cultures are deeply flawed. Years after Columbus became the first man in recorded history to achieve immortality by refusing to follow directions, a group of religious exiles and cultural misfits arrived on the shores of what is now New England in search of precious freedoms like the right to worship, the right to assemble, and the right to return any item within thirty days if you are not fully satisfied with our product. These settlers were called Capitalists.

The Capitalists went through tremendous trial on their way to the New World, not the least of which was having to wear samples from a line of clothing designed by Frenchman Pierre Mullet, whose obsession with shiny buckles took his outrageous design sensibilities from common belts to hats to men’s footwear. Unable to nullify a contract signed by Capitalist Minister of Fashion Hans Jacobensenson, and fearing the legal repercussions of a breach of contract, the Capitalist settlers were obligated to wear their buckle-heavy clothing for years after arriving at the New World.

The first meeting between the Capitalists and Native Americans, who then went by the name “Chowds”, so named for their love of clam chowder, was hardly amicable. In fact, Capitalist ships came ashore during a celebrated annual Chowd tradition called Spring Break, and rudely interrupted the wildly popular loincloth competition. A full account of the conflict can be gleaned from several first-hand accounts recorded in Capitalist and Chowd journals. Here are some examples:

First, from Capitalist cook Christian Christiansen:

“It wath clear that we had wreaketh havoc on a thacred tradithun, and tho we dethided to thet up camp theveral yardth down the thore. As the company had bethum thired of my thandard mealth, which were largely conthructed on theeweed and theewater, I approathed the nativeth and athed them if they knew of any local takeout resthauranths that might provide thusthenance for 4-600 people on thort notith. I wath directhed thoo a man with beuthiful black hair and deep brown eyth, who generouthly provided me with enough corn to feed the entire company.”

From Capitalist quartermaster Christian Christianhansenson:

“The corn was a most fascinating variety, quite unlike any I had ever before seen whilst backpacking through mid-sixteenth century Europe. The natives called it ‘Maize’, which must be some special strain indigenous only to this land of plenty. It was multi-colored, with yellow, brown, and white kernels, and when we tried to cook it over our open flames it exploded into a wonderful little snack the natives called ‘popcorn’. At least, we think they called it ‘popcorn’. You see, we didn’t share the language with these natives, and had to communicate mostly through sign language and massage therapy. When they saw us cooking the corn, several of them laughed and chatted back and forth in their native dialect, repeating the term “popcorn” over and over again.”

And from native Chowd Nutana-Cho-Watanasee, which being interpreted, means “The Great Spirit has given me a runt son with no future”:

“Spring Break Year of the Winged Eagle 2245 had been the best ever, then in the middle of the loincloth contest, these massive canoes come rolling up and all these weirdoes in buckles come pouring out. Most of them looked terribly ill, and so we waved them away from our beach because we had just been through a bugger of a bout with the flu and didn’t want to have to cancel school for another week. So all these people wander down the beach and try to build some fires, then one of them comes up to us and starts jabbering and making all these strange motions. Eventually Dave figured that the guy was hungry, cause he kept chomping his teeth and rubbing his stomach, so we asked around and finally Mike says, ‘Hey, let’s just give them some of that irregular corn that Andy grew last summer, that funky-looking stuff that tasted like rotted wood.’ So we rounded it all up and took it over, and they started cooking it for waaay too long, and when it started exploding on them they were thrilled, and actually started eating it, and on the way back we couldn’t stop laughing. We just kept exclaiming, ‘they’re eating that crap!’ over and over, cause it looked so funny. Then five months later they helped us build a casino.”

This first Thanksgiving dinner led to an awkward relationship between the two cultures, who never successfully broke their communication barrier in any satisfying way. For years the Chowds assumed the Capitalists were only passing through the area, much like the Viking clans who had passed through in times of yore (not to be confused with the Del-Vikings, whose mid 1950’s Doo-Wop hit, “Come Go With Me” has become a staple of Time-Life Oldies collections everywhere). Initially the Chowds preferred the Capitalists, whose tendency to rape and pillage was considerably less frequent than the Norsemen, but by the time the Capitalists began to install the first street lights in Boston, the Chowds began to suspect that their neighbors might be putting down more permanent roots. During this time the now-annual dinner conferences between the two cultures became less and less attended, until finally the only official communication came via bulk holiday e-mails.

In the time since, various special interest groups, industrial powerhouses, and the National Football League have conspired to alter our understanding of the holiday to accommodate their own specific needs. The addition of the Turkey to the Thanksgiving myth didn’t come about until 1947, when unionized turkey farmers demanded accommodation for the surplus they had generated to support the European war effort. Up until then, traditional Thanksgiving dinners had been built around a staple of corn, seaweed, and clam chowder. The holiday itself wasn’t even made official until 1982, when NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle demanded an official holiday so he could justify adding additional games to the standard Sunday/Monday night schedule. In fact, Thanksgiving wasn’t even an American holiday. The first Thanksgiving feasts were held in ancient Egypt after a tremendous dust storm fended off foreign armies seeking to desecrate the pyramids by building coffee shops for tourists, and those feasts featured corn, seaweed, sweet potatoes, and virgin sacrifices. All we are really left with today is a mutt of a holiday that will be consumed by a pair of pagan celebrations inside of a decade.

And now you may ask, “Josh, what is to be done? Now that you have shown us the light, what can I do in this oppressive world of digital domination and faceless anonymity?” My answer, dear friends, is to embrace history, to fend off the tide of the incoming Christmas season, and set aside your devilish pagan witch brooms long enough to celebrate true Americana by preparing a feast appropriate to our first settlers, a feast of bad corn and seaweed, and wrap the whole thing up with a traditional loincloth competition. Fear not the rebuke of the mindless sheep that want to gorge themselves on the mistaken symbols of a perverted holiday, watching their silly football games and pretending to know what it means to be an American. Don’t give in to the revisionist peer pressure that comes with slavish obedience to a flawed culture. Stand up for the Capitalists and Chowds that built this nation on their awkward, well-intentioned but disillusioned backs!

“If this be treason, then let us make the most of it!”