I’ll bet when the 60 Pilgrims and 90 Natives sat down to eat in 1621, they never would’ve imagined what a goofy thing this Thanksgiving thing would’ve become.
This year, Americans will slay, consume, and throw away the remains of nearly 50 million turkeys.
But before we bust out the stuffing, we gather around the television and take in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a tradition (read: promotional stunt) that dates back to 1924. Incidentally, not a single giant balloon was included back then, although there were animals from the Central Park Zoo marched along the parade route. Because nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” like a zebra on a leash.
Did you know before it was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it was the “America’s” Thanksgiving Day parade, and it wasn’t in New York City, but in Newark, New Jersey.
The parade ends with Santa Clause coming to town, ushering in the beginning of the Christmas season, and by that I mean the Christmas shopping season. A smart move by Macy’s, but with two glaring issues:
First, these days the Christmas shopping season kicks off right around Labor Day. I spied with my little eye Santa at Walmart and Target since waaaaaaay before Halloween. So it’s a little odd to see him strutting his stuff in late November around Herald Square, announcing an arrival that already happened weeks before.
The second glaring issue is that I have never bought a single Christmas present at Macy’s, so their sponsorship seems way out dated. I guess the “Amazon Thanksgiving Day Parade” doesn’t have quite the ring to it — not yet, at least.
There are a lot of weird things embedded in our holidays. Halloween is just plain bizarre, when you slow down to think about it. Hey kids! Let’s dress up funny, walk around outside, and take candy from strangers! These are things we don’t normally do.
But I don’t know of anything more odd than the Thanksgiving tradition of the presidential pardoning of a turkey. JFK unofficially spared the first fowl in 1963, but Ronald Reagan gave a bird — like with feathers and a beak and stuff — an official presidential pardon in 1987. It was meant as a joke, but we Americans can’t help ourselves. It’s been happening ever since.
We aren’t the only nation to celebrate Thanksgiving, of course. In Korea they substitute songpyeon for turkey, steaming the rice cake dish over pine needles. On Norfolk Island in Australia Thanksgiving is celebrated, but nowhere else on the Australian continent. Turns out some American whaling ships brought the holiday to the nation, but it didn’t take in the rest of Australia.
I guess if you really want to celebrate in style, you could visit one of the three places named “Turkey” in the United States (there’s one in Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina). For the vegans among us, take heart, there are four more towns named Cranberry (in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Maryland).
One more fun fact before you go, and I promise I’m not making this up. Black Friday — the day after we stuff our faces with the turkey and the cranberries and all the rest — is the busiest day of the year for plumbers. I’ll let you fill in the blanks on that one out of respect for the women and the children in the room.
Here’s hoping all of you have a blessed, Happy Thanksgiving. Have a laugh while you’re at it. There’s plenty to lament in our country these days, but let’s not lose sight of the much we have to be thankful for.
This piece originally appeared in The Salem News, for which I write a bi-monthly column.