On This Day

Today, the day after Thanksgiving, is officially Native American Heritage Day. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The bill was introduced by Congressman Joe Baca and supported by 184 federally recognized tribes. It was seen as one small way to pay tribute to Native Americans for their many contributions to the United States.

The sanitized version of the first Thanksgiving that many Americans were taught in school. (Painting by JLG Ferris, 1932, Library of Congress.]

Celebrating Thanksgiving as a holiday dates back to the early history of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies. Post-harvest holidays were celebrated on Thursdays which was also seen as “Lecture Day” because it was when church meetings occurred with topical lectures (sermons) were given.

The Thursday meeting best remembered happened in the autumn of 1621, when Plymouth governor William Bradford invited local members of the Wampanoag tribe to join the Pilgrims in a festival held in gratitude for the bounty of the season.

The actual day for Thanksgiving has changed a few times. In 1777, the Continental Congress declared the first national American Thanksgiving following the Patriot victory at Saratoga. In 1789, President Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26, as a day of national thanksgiving for the U.S. Constitution. In 1863, President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to officially fall on the last Thursday of November.

In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt departed from tradition by declaring November 23, the next to last Thursday that year, as Thanksgiving Day. That did not go over well. He backtracked in 1941 and signed a bill into law officially making the fourth Thursday in November the national holiday of Thanksgiving Day.

Though most tribes supported the holiday’s designation, not all Native Americans are in favor of today being Native American Heritage Day. (see this article) Some tribes celebrate their heritage day on a different date. To some, Thanksgiving Day is the “National Day of Mourning. The fact that today is more widely known as Black Friday also seems to be an unfortunate day to share. Both Thanksgiving and especially Black Friday can be days “of excess and gluttony and greed and aggressive capitalism” coming after a day that Native Americans see as is celebrated without any indication that millions of indigenous people died as a result of aggressive settler colonialism.

Early contacts between the Wampanoag Indians and colonists date from the 16th century when European merchant vessels and fishing boats traveled along the coast of New England. Captain Thomas Hunt captured several Wampanoag in 1614 and sold them in Spain as slaves. A Patuxet named Tisquantum (or Squanto) was bought by Spanish monks who attempted to convert him before setting him free. He accompanied an expedition to Newfoundland as an interpreter, then made his way back to his homeland in 1619 — only to discover that the entire Patuxet tribe had died in an epidemic.

In 1620, the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, and Tisquantum and other Wampanoag taught them how to cultivate the varieties of corn, squash, and beans (the Three Sisters) that flourished in New England, as well as how to catch and process fish and collect seafood. They enabled the Pilgrims to survive their first winters, and Squanto lived with them and acted as a middleman between them and other neighboring tribes.Today is Native American Heritage Day

The Nap After Thanksgiving Dinner

Image by Julie Rothe from Pixabay

Are you already prepping for Thanksgiving dinner? That might mean food prep or it might mean sleep prep.

This has always been my wife’s favorite holiday – no gifts, no cards, no religious affiliations, just food and family and friends and a time to count your blessings. In years past, we had quite a crowd with our parents, some bachelor(ette) aunts and friends who didn’t have family and our own two boys. This year the parents and aunts have passed on. Our boys are off with their in-laws, so it will be a quiet holiday.

Thanksgiving is also a day when Americans – who already eat too much – will make and eat too much to an even larger degree. And that often leads to the after-dinner nap on the couch. Sleep after a big meal is never a good idea for digestion, but you cant’ help it after that turkey and fixings. Right?

Did you see the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and George force a lot of turkey on a woman so that she will fall asleep and they can play with her classic toy collection? It has long been thought that because turkey has the amino acid L-tryptophan, that it causes that after-dinner hangover. But is the turkey really what makes you so tired?  Maybe not.

Fact: L-tryptophan is an amino acid responsible for producing serotonin in our brains and serotonin is a hormone that affects mood. It makes us feel happy and relaxed and plays a role in helping us sleep and also aids with digestion. And turkey has L-tryptophan. But some research shows that the amino acids and protein in turkey have the opposite effect. They can inhibit L-tryptophan’s ability to produce serotonin which means it would keep you awake.

And yet the after-dinner turkey day snooze is real. What is causing it? It’s carbohydrates. The bread, rolls, stuffing, potatoes, cake and pie, when eaten with high protein foods like turkey will lead to feeling sleepy and sluggish.

How can we beat that sleepy effect? Don’t starve before the main meal because you’ll eat too fast and too much. (I know that you said that you didn’t eat all morning in order to “save room” for dinner.) Eat smaller portions of those carbs. Fight off the habit or urge to nap by getting outside for a little walk or some touch football.

So, now that I have taken some of the pleasure out of the holiday meal, is there any good coming out of traditional Thanksgiving foods? I searched and yes, there is some good news.

I have never met a potato I didn’t like and mashed potatoes are high on my list. Potatoes are full of potassium which lowers blood pressure and nourishes muscles and they have a lot of vitamin B6 which helps metabolism. Note that adding a lot of salt, gravy or butter can cancel out any benefits.

Fresh vegetables have fiber, Vitamins A, B1, B2 and B6 and calcium. The green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and the crunchy onions is not so great for your health.

I love stuffing. I will have a stuffing sandwich the day after Thanksgiving. I know, it’s bread on bread. But stuffing can be made healthier with the addition of whole wheat bread with the crusts and nuts, seeds, meat or vegan protein and carrots, celery and other veggies so that you get more fiber, antioxidants and nutrients. My wife’s recipe has all that and it is delicious.

How about pumpkin pie? I just read that many pumpkin products are actually made from other squashes and they can legally be labeled as pumpkin. Bummer. Pumpkin pie with real pumpkin contains potassium, vitamin C and beta-carotene, which can help lower the risk of cancer. Again, what else you add to the pie (sugars, whipped cream etc.) might tip the scale from beneficial to harmful.

I wish you moderation and gratitude on your Thanksgiving day. Eat well. And after the meal, maybe toss a football around before you watch other people toss one around on a screen from your comfy couch.

Days of Thanksgiving

An autumn version, painted by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, of the “first” Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts)

Our modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is sometimes traced back to a not-very-well-documented late autumn November 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts.

A year after their mistaken arrival (they intended to go to Virginia), this feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a first good harvest.

Pilgrims and Puritans began emigrating from England in the 1620s and brought a tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them.

It was “official” when Governor Bradford planned the colony’s thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.

Unlike the “first Thanksgiving” that is in many of our brains from school and popular culture,  the one that was first was on February 21, 1621.  A group of the starving Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock were saved by the last-minute arrival of a ship from Dublin bringing food.  Pilgrims in the winter of their first year had no harvest to rely on and faced the end of the their project to colonize the New World.  According to records at the Massachusetts Historical Society, a wife of one of the prominent Plymouth Rock brethren was the daughter of a Dublin merchant and that it was he who chartered a vessel, loaded it with food and sent it to Plymouth.

Thanksgiving observances are common throughout the world. American-style Thanksgiving is currently on the rise in the United Kingdom, with 1 in 6 Britons now celebrating the holiday. In 2014, it was reported that Turkey sales increased by 95% as a result of the rise in popularity of Thanksgiving in Britain.

The First Thanksgiving by JLG Ferris is a more traditional depiction of the holiday’s origin – Library of Congress

Thanks and Regrets

Have you recovered yet from the deluge of thanks that were supposed to be given and received yesterday? Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because it was less commercial than Christmas, Halloween, Easter and all the other holidays of my childhood. Was less commercial. It is slipping into the commercial morass of the other holidays. Black Friday and Cyber Monday seem as important as family dinner. People are thankful for good price savings.

I read an article inspirationandchai.com awhile ago that was written by someone who worked in palliative care and dealt with patients who had gone home to die.

Mortality makes us thankful and regretful. I know that when I am at a funeral or even hear about someone’s untimely death, I always think about my death and try to be thankful for all I have, but also tick off the regrets for what I have not done or haven’t been thankful for.

The writer said that there were five common regrets or things they would do differently and I wrote them in my blogging notebook. I suspect many people reading this page share at least a few of them.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

The wording of those five is interesting. Take that fifth one. I might have said “I wish I had been happier,” but that doesn’t recognize that happiness is a choice.

Lately, I have been not working full-time and have theoretically had more “free time.” I should be seeing more of my friends. But I think I have actually seen less of them somehow. Why is that? Next week, I roll back into a more full-time life again, and so I regret not having taken advantage of the free time I had the past year or so.

Thanksgiving, Pilgrims and the Rock

“The Landing of the Pilgrims.”(1877) by Henry A. Bacon

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War
With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought back on when I read Nathaniel Philbrick‘s book Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and WarI have to agree with him that the Rock is the most disappointing piece of American tourism I have encountered. I saw it on a road trip I made back in 1971 and it was truly underwhelming. Now that I read the story behind that hunk of Dedham granodiorite glacial erratic, it makes more sense that I felt that way.

It was pretty much legend right from the start that said that the rock at the foot of Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts was the one where the Pilgrims landed in 1620. There were plans to build a wharf at the Pilgrim’s landing site in 1741, and a Thomas Faunce (94 years old and the town record keeper) identified the rock that his father said was the first solid land the Pilgrims set foot upon.

Philbrick’s book is also a good read to find out what that first Thanksgiving was really like and why the Pilgrims never called themselves pilgrims.

Actually, the Pilgrims first landed near the site of modern Provincetown in November 1620 and then moved on to Plymouth).

Napoleon Bonaparte said that “History is a set of lies agreed upon” and that’s pretty much true with this historical location.

That initial settlement was built on nearby Leyden Street leading up toward Burial Hill. In 1774, they decided to move the rock and in transporting it in a wagon, it fell off and split into two. They left the bottom half behind at the wharf and relocated the top to the town’s meeting-house.

Over the years, they built a structure to house Plymouth Rock (well, part of it) and eventually added a gate to stop souvenir hunters who had been hacking off parts of it. The upper portion of the rock was also brought back to the wharf and the date “1620” was carved into the rock.

In 1920, the rock was relocated again and the waterfront rebuilt with a waterfront promenade behind a low seawall, in such a way that when the rock was returned to its original site, it would be at water level so that you could see the tide-washed rock.

Parts of the Rock were taken, bought and sold over the years and about one-third of the top portion remains. Today there are pieces in Pilgrim Hall Museum as well as in the Patent Building in the Smithsonian.

With all that, it doesn’t mean the rock is unimportant though. Alexis De Tocqueville, a Frenchman traveling throughout the United States, wrote in 1835:

“This Rock has become an object of veneration in the United States. I have seen bits of it carefully preserved in several towns in the Union. Does this sufficiently show that all human power and greatness is in the soul of man? Here is a stone which the feet of a few outcasts pressed for an instant; and the stone becomes famous; it is treasured by a great nation; its very dust is shared as a relic.”


Other Books by Philbrick