Once, when I was a little boy, in the depths of the Depression, my mother decided we couldn’t afford a turkey. But she knew how excited I was about the holiday and what I had heard on the radio about turkey and all the trimmings. So, with her sister, Hilda, Mom made a substitute turkey.
She took a couple of pounds of chopped meat and sculpted a turkey in a large pan. She used a slice of hard-boiled egg as an eye. And baked the improvised turkey in the oven. It didn’t exactly look like a turkey but it was the next best thing. And, to me, it was a real treat.
Thanksgiving has always been a special holiday for me and my family. And it is a special holiday for all of us. I used to love to see my mother bake a sweet potato pie with a marshmallow crust.
Thanksgiving is a holiday filled with love, a time when ties with family and friends bring us joy.
Most Americans believe the history of this holiday goes back to 1621 when early English settlers [we have long called them Pilgrims] shared a feast at Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the Wampanoag Indians. For the settlers it was a holiday with much religious significance. They were thanking God for his blessings.
The colonists had gone hunting and brought back a large amount of geese and ducks. Then the Indians joined the party, bringing a supply of fish, eels, shellfish, vegetables and beer. The two groups socialized well. But, only a few years later, the Indians and the colonists clashed and many on each side were killed.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving. Over the years the holiday, which began as essentially a religious observance, became more of a family occasion. And that’s what it is now.
More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving brings families together. The food, the warmth, the good fellowship are very important. Somehow, most differences, which sow dissension in even the best of families, vanish for a day and it seems only love is in the air.
New York has contributed a very special thing to this very special holiday -- the Thanksgiving Day Parade. It always reminds me of what the late and beloved New York senator, Herbert Lehman, told me many years ago.
He said: “When Mrs. Lehman and I visit a foreign city, the first thing we do is go to the zoo. That’s because that’s where the children are.”
New York’s classic Thanksgiving Parade brings out the children by the hundreds of thousands. It’s a chance to see them watching the big balloons with wonder -- and delight -- in their eyes.
“Albuquerque” is a song performed by children in many elementary schools. The words:
“Albuquerque was a turkey, and he’s feathered and he’s fine:
“And he wobbles and he gobbles and he’s absolutely mine…
“And my Albuquerque turkey is so happy in his bed---
’Cause for our Thanksgiving dinner
We had pizza pie instead.”
There are two conflicting views of Thanksgiving. One, expressed by 19th century American writer Sarah Josepha Hale, said that the Pilgrims incorporated a thanksgiving day “among their moral influences…it blessed and beautified the homes it reached.”
But Linda Coombs, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe, wrote: “Thanksgiving is celebrated at the expense of Native Peoples who had to give up their lands and culture for America to become what it is today.”
The sins of yesterday cannot be forgotten. But the beauty of this holiday, the warmth, the family bonds are what makes it so special. It’s the gateway to the holiday season.
Let us imagine how young children see it. We can hope they will always remember the colors, the smell of good food, the humor, the beauty of family as it is revealed to them on this day.