The Real Story? Thanksgiving will take place tomorrow and preparations are well under way. I can almost smell the turkeys and gravy cooking. As is the ritual, families are being reunited and everyone is pitching in to make this holiday the most meaningful and heartfelt of all the holidays in America. It’s also one way of patching up our differences after a very difficult electoral period. Of course a lot of intellectuals are trying to ruin the fun by separating fact from fiction (in a few weeks, they’ll also be trying to prove that Old Saint Nicholas never existed…). So this morning on CBS News, historian and author Kenneth Davis tried to dispel some myths and I would like to share his take on the real story of Thanksgiving:
Well…what did you think? In my opinion, there are certain myths that are good to hang on to…like Santa Claus (well?), the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and well…the Pilgrims making friends with the Indians…at least for a few days. And then there was Art Buchwald (RIP)…who gave us his version of the real story of Thanksgiving (of course whenever there’s food involved, the French are not very far away…):
Probably one of my favorite American humorists, Arthur Buchwald (October 20, 1925 – January 17, 2007) was best known for his long-running column in The Washington Post. He was so popular that his column got published by hundreds of newspapers throughout the United States and he became a syndicated columnist. He specialized in political satire and commentary. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Outstanding Commentary in 1982 and in 1986 was chosen to join the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The following piece, which he wrote for the International Herald Tribune while working in Paris as a correspondent, has become a classic in American journalism. He wanted to explain to the French what Thanksgiving really represented for Americans. I’m not sure they understood better after this but…well…at least they got a laugh out of it. Oh…those crazy Americans (we still had a good reputation at that time)! See if you can understand the humor (you may have to fact-check his details and look up some words! It’s useful if you know a little French also).
Meanwhile: Chacun à son goût on Thanksgiving by Art Buchwald
First Published: Thanksgiving 1952
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant.
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims (Pèlerins) who fled from l’Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World (le Nouveau Monde) where they could shoot Indians (les Peaux-Rouges) and eat turkey (dinde) to their heart’s content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Américaine) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai) in 1620. But while the Pèlerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pèlerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux- Rouges helped the Pèlerins was when they taught them to grow corn (maïs).The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pèlerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pèlerins’ crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more maïs was raised by the Pèlerins than Pèlerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilomètres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant:
“Go to the damsel Priscilla (allez très vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth (la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action (un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.
“I am a maker of war (je suis un fabricant de la guerre) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar (vous, qui êtes pain comme un étudiant), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden.”
Although Jean was fit to be tied (convenable à être emballé), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission.Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow (rendue muette par l’étonnement et la tristesse).
At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: “If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?” (Où est-il, le vieux Kilomètres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas auprès de moi pour tenter sa chance?)
Jean said that Kilomètres Deboutish was very busy and didn’t have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilomètres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, Jean?” (Chacun à son goût.)
And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes, and for the only time during the year eat better than the French do.
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fête and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilomètres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.
Art Buchwald. As I said before, this column first appeared in the International Herald Tribune many, many Thanksgivings ago when Art Buchwald was a correspondent and when life was “insouciant”. As an American living in France, I can identify with his feelings being away and missing out on the turkey! Oh well…we can celebrate in our own way!
So…how much do you really know about Thanksgiving? Go to Debby’s Corner to test your knowledge with a “Board” game or try doing a crossword by clicking here:
PS: Just in case you didn’t get it, Thanksgiving, or at least what we think of this very special American day that Lincoln declared a holiday just after the civil war, did involve the Pilgrims and some nearby Indians. But instead of lasting only one day, it originally was three days long (with no leftovers!) and was a harvest festival to give thanks to the bounty that the land gave to the settlers. This harvest festival brought over from Europe was religiously based and involved a lot of praying and fasting. It was only in 1623 that the Indians helped the Pilgrims have a feast after a heavy rain destroyed their harvests.