Everyone likes Thanksgiving – especially turkey farmers – and what’s not to like. Food, friends, family, all get together without religion or the need for presents: everyone’s welcome. It’s basically a harvest festival, usually said to have been held first in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts when Pilgrim immigrants and Native Americans sat down to celebrate a good harvest after a very difficult first year. This led to a long, peaceful co-existence, which, if true, is probably the only example of a genuinely cooperative and peaceful relationship between natives and colonists.
The church soon became involved and preachers and politicians issued sermons and proclamations thanking God for his gifts. Today, of course, the church has been displaced by the television and the holy game of football dominates the day.
There are many harvest celebrations in France but Thanksgiving traditions are unknown, so when Carrie Sumner and I planned our dinner, we were unable to find a whole turkey and settled on pintade, a scrawny looking bird not much bigger than a chicken, but with darker, more flavorful meat. I brined one bird and cooked it on our faux Weber before finishing it in the oven. Carrie cooked the second one and noticing the lack of fat, stuffed the space between skin and meat with duck fat, brilliant. Both turned out well, add the onions agrodolce (no cippollini available), Brussels sprouts, dressing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and pinots from Australia, Oregon and France and we had ourselves a real Thanksgiving and an international one at that with Marcel, who is Swiss, Bartek is Polish and Muriel is French. We even had a Skype visit from Carrie’s parents in Oregon.
There are, of course, numerous Thanksgiving traditions: the president pardons a turkey, Macy’s has a parade, the NFL plays football, and families, most of whom no longer resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, create their own traditions. Over-eating and falling asleep in front of the TV are staples and in many homes, everyone says what he is thankful for. Vegetarians may replace the bird with a nut loaf or similar and many in Northern California will eschew turkey and celebrate the opening of crab season. The Friday after has become the monster-shopping day, but my friends will instead head up the California coast for an oyster picnic.
But Carrie’s family has the weirdest tradition of all: they watch the movie White Christmas, which is strange, but they also sing along with the music. Now, they explain watching the movie because they see Thanksgiving as beginning the Christmas holiday season, but nothing can explain the sing-along. This is a kind of Crosby/Clooney Karaoke that goes on for two hours until all the old soldiers come marching in, very strange. In a way, it harkens back to the Rockwell era and gathering around the piano in the parlor. In another way, it makes you think that maybe football isn’t such a bad idea after all.