Ah, yes, another Thanksgiving is almost upon us. I suppose we all know the origins of the holiday by now. I mean, we Americans know the origins. However, as this is the Internet, I know citizens of other countries occasionally takes a gander at this blog, and they may need an explanation. To recap, in 1620 a group of Puritans at odds with the Church of England in their home country set sail on a ship called The Mayflower to North America, or as it was sometimes referred to at the time, the New World. After an arduous two-month journey, they landed in what is now Massachusetts and established a modest little colony named Plymouth, after the town back home from which the Mayflower had set sail. Dry land notwithstanding, things got even more arduous for the people who would come to be known as Pilgrims. Disease, food shortages, and a harsh winter took its toll. Of the 102 Puritans who had set sail on the Mayflower, only about half were still alive a year later. Gradually, things did improve for the survivors. They met a group of indigenous North Americans, or Indians, who lived nearby and agreed to help them out by showing them how best to farm the soil. After a successful fall harvest, the Plymouth colonists decided to hold a celebratory feast, inviting the Indians to join them. The more, the merrier, as they say.
Then there was the day after the First Thanksgiving. That's when a phalanx of musket-toting paleface Pilgrims marched into the Indian village, knocked loudly on the first wigwam they came to, and barked, "OK, Tonto, it's Manifest Destiny time! We got a nice reservation all decked out for you. If you don't like the accommodations, take your complaints to the 7th Cavalry!"
Well, I might be telescoping events a wee bit.
Here's some Thanksgiving imagery, along with some history here and there, to mull over as you chow down on your stuffing and mashed potatoes.
Let's start with Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want. Though the painting (or illustration) debuted in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post in March of 1942, it's come to be associated with Thanksgiving. This is Rockwell at his most photographic. At his most detailed. For instance, in the middle-right of the picture, note how what looks to be a gelatin of some sort in magnified through a glass of water. Rockwell may have made things even more challenging for himself by having white dinnerware placed on a white tablecloth, along with white curtains in the background. So much white that in the hands of a lesser artist the picture could have become so much spilled milk. However, Rockwell was not a lesser but a greater artist (or illustrator), and so each and every object is clearly delineated. And there are some non-white objects to offer a bit of contrast, too, such as that fellow looking at us in the lower-right hand corner (hey, pal, didn't anybody ever tell you it's not nice to stare?) OK, so the artwork is technically kick-ass, but how about the message it conveys? Is perhaps Rockwell idealizing the holiday a bit too much? Well, that's something for each and every one of you to decide on your own, depending on your own experiences on Turkey Day. I mean, I've been to Thanksgiving dinners where something like the above scene more or less played out. And remember, it's a single moment in time, not the entire day. Anything that might have occurred afterwards, from a family argument, to some drunken behavior, to people showing impatience as they wait to get into the bathroom, to a whipped cream-covered pumpkin pie becoming embedded in the carpet, to the dog snapping at a kid who yanked too hard on the his left ear, well, you can paint those pictures yourself if you want. I only have one quibble with what's arguably Rockwell's most famous work of art. I don't know what the availability of steroids were in the 1940s, but, given the size of that turkey, you'd think that woman would be straining a bit more than she is with that platter. Furthermore, she's holding it at kind of an awkward angle. Wouldn't it be much easier if she held it right in front of her as she placed it on the table? But I guess she can't because that idiot to the left of her won't get out of the way.
There's no evidence Pilgrims actually dressed this way, but someone dreamed up the look in the late 19th-early 20th century, and it's been with us ever since.
There's even less evidence that pilgrims dressed like this (TCM fans, that's Jean Arthur on the left.)
Man, look at the size of that ship! It sure takes up a good swath of the ocean. Those pilgrims should have made it to the New World in no time at all!
As Thanksgiving made its way into the 20th century, the iconic Pilgrim began to realize he had to compete for the public's attention (art by the once-popular illustrator J.C. Leyendecker. Don't know if he played the game or not.)
That should feed a lot of munchkins.
The Pilgrims furniture arrives.
Nothing goes with turkey like oatmeal (or whatever the heck it is.)
I hope for that woman on the left's sake that this is Plymouth and not Salem.
This Puritan descendant turned out not to be very puritanical at all.
Fowl play: a Partridge on a turkey shoot.
Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims in their diaries, journals, and correspondence say nothing about coming across a big rock upon arriving in the New World. That's not to say it wasn't there, but just that the Pilgrims didn't think anything of it. It wasn't until 121 years later that a Plymouth civic leader decided that the rock was of great historical significance (i.e., a tourist attraction.)
More fowl play. Is Woodstock a cannibal?
Take a moment to give thanks the next time you walk into a movie theater.
"Still crazy after all these years..."
(As much as I would like it to be, that's not my joke. Paul Simon actually sang that while hosting Saturday Night Live back in November, 1976.)
Another Thanksgiving tradition.
You always know the parade is winding down when this fellow shows up. Which brings up another point. Whatever the holiday's historical origins, these days Thanksgiving is basically the Christmas season's opening act.
Well, that's all I got, and so, in parting, I'd just like to say...
...Happy Thanksgiving, and hats off to all of you!