The Unknown History of Thanksgiving

As we bring November to a close, the 13th Clown acknowledges that in spite of the fact that Christmas decorations went up at the Mall on Halloween, there is a another, uniquely American, holiday sandwiched between the one with goblins and the one with a morbidly obese elf.

They say that Thanksgiving is an American invention. However, people in the original colonies celebrated it long before there was a country called “America”. The early celebrants were colonists, citizens of England, officially, but that is a niggling point so I won’t mention it again. But there may be a quiz.

Exactly how this particular fall holiday came to be what it is today, is shrouded in the sands of time. And if you have ever owned a shroud made of sand you will appreciate a nice soft shroud which, by the way, makes an excellent stocking stuffer. But, let’s get back to  Thanksgiving.

Given that the 13th Clown is morbidly curious, he used his exceptional investigative journalism and research skills to dig to the roots of this issue. Here is what was learned.

Just after the Revolutionary War, when the English had scurried back to England or Toronto, whichever was cheapest, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and John Adams sat down at a Philadelphia tavern called “Ye Auld Hog’s Inards and Ale” to discuss how the colonists’ annual fall Thanksgiving Festival could be codified so that all current and future Americans would have specific directions for the planning and execution of a proper celebration. A transcript of that conversation was recently discovered, tucked between the pages of some amateur pornography that Franklin was editing for a friend at the time of his untimely death.


Adams: “Tis my great honor to have you both join me in a pint and a basket of crispy bowel bits to discuss how to expand and improve on the traditional fall holiday known as Thanksgiving.

Jefferson: Speaking for myself and Franklin here, currently washing down a large wad of crispy bowel bits with a flagon of Horse Lather Ale, we are honored to be asked to participate.

Franklin: Mmmmm, gurgle, mmmmm too.

Adams: First, what should be the central activity or theme that captures the essence of the holiday?

Jefferson: Perhaps people could display a tree. Something decorative, you know, festive. Then they could form a circle around the tree and sing songs about being, you know, thankful.

Adams: Well, that could work and I appreciate your creative input. I might point out, Tom, that we put up festive trees for Christmas, which follows Thanksgiving by only four weeks. The citizens might start confusing the two holidays . The retail crowd would likely be unhappy, not to mention the mess involved if people tried to make the Thanksgiving tree serve as the Christmas tree as well. Think of the dry needle problem.

Jefferson: Excellent points, John, but let’s keep the tree idea on the table.

Franklin: I think that a parade and a day-long family cookout followed by an enormously expensive fireworks display would be good. Personally, I love fireworks and I love cook outs. Of course, I love cook ins as well so either way you know, I’m good.

Jefferson: I think that Ben is on to something here. Not the parade and fireworks so much, that really reeks of 4th of July, but the eating. We could build the holiday around gluttony.

Adams: I hate to keep poking sand into the gears here, but everyone pretty much eats all the time. It’s not special. We eat three time a day. On special occasions we usually ask friends out to a nice dinner and we laugh and eat and enjoy ourselves. I mean, we already use eating routinely for celebrations.

Franklin: Well, we could make this particular eating experience unique. Say, just to give an example, we encourage people to congregate in large groups of annoying family and friends who promise to bring their “famous” pig snout dressing, calves-foot pudding, hare pye or something. Then, with all that abundance of food, people would gorge themselves to the point of misery. The experience would range from barely tolerable to disastrous and everyone would be thankful when it was over.

Adams: Actually, in some perverse way, this sounds promising.

Jefferson: Yeah, yeah and the meal should be built around a particular entree. Of course my choice, and I know that both of you enjoy it as well, would be the slow roasted, Cajun spice infused breast of bald eagle. Bring that baby to a golden brown crisp on the spit, place it on a platter surrounded by boiled turnips, steamed Brussels sprouts and barley balls and it’s a meal fit for a king, if we had a king, which we don’t but I hear rumors that Washington is angling for a scepter so I wouldn’t count that out…..

Adams: Tom, Tom, let’s get back on target here. Again, I think that this food idea is workable but I suggest a minor alteration. It seems that most of our native American friends consider the bald eagle sacred. I know, I know, but they are still clinging to some of their old animist ways. We don’t want to alienate them while we negotiate what we have told them are “iron-clad” land treaties. Roasted bald eagle would be my choice as well, Tom, but in this age of rampant political correctness, I just think that another entree would be the better part of valor.

Franklin: Hare ragoo over vermicelli is delicious but it doesn’t have that celebratory sound; too Frenchy froo-froo for our unsophisticated hoi polloi.

Jefferson: Rack of venison has some appeal but, then again, that would leave enormous amounts of left over venison carcass that would have to be dried and stored in  a cool place. There would invariably be the venison rot issue among those too poor for a cooling cellar like mine at Monticello.

Adams:  So true, so true. Here’s an off-the-wall idea, and I encourage you to keep an open mind, how about roast turkey?

Jefferson: Good God, man, have you taken leave of your senses? Turkeys are the scourge of the planter class. They’ll eat anything, including cotton. They are the aviary equivalent of cockroaches and just as numerous. The mere thought turns my stomach. They have that disgusting wiggly-wobbly thingy under their beaks, no chins, they are chock-a-block full of something called “giblets” and they’re dumber than a wagon load of red coats.

Adams: Completely right on every point, Tom. But in these negatives, I see some positives. First, we wouldn’t eat the wiggly-wobbly thingy, just on principle. The bird’s lack of a chin is clearly a sign of poor character but doesn’t speak authoritatively about the flavor of the rest of the fowl. And, our recipes would call for scooping out those giblets and such, leaving this enormous cavity that we could stuff full of something that everyone likes, perhaps a mixture of ground pork foot, coarse millet bread, puree of calves head and such. We would just stuff it and stuff it. Finally, if we get Americans to adopt this dumb bird as THE Thanksgiving entree, the population of turkeys would be greatly reduced every November. Ta-da, pest problem moderated.

Franklin: Boy-oh-boy, John, when you mentioned puree of calves head, my salivary glands went crazy. Let’s order some right now.

Adams: None for me, thanks. Abigail and I ate earlier.

Jefferson: Go ahead pudgy but I’m watching my waist line. I take your points, John, and I could be convinced, especially if whatever we stuff in the bird is delicious. What should we call that filling, “filler”?

Adams: Well, that would work, I suppose, but I fear that some would then be tempted to fill the cavity with the giblets again. So, the filler has to be made from other non-turkey stuff to prevent that mistake. I suggest that we just leave it open-ended by recommending that the bird be stuffed with “other stuff”. I have confidence that in its collective wisdom that Americans will eventually come up with something creative.

Franklin: Perhaps. Time will tell, if I can use one of my own cliches.

Adams: It’s settled then. Thanksgiving will be an entire day of  gorging on roast turkey filled with other stuff and accompanied with “special” side dishes brought by people who we prefer to see but once a year, followed by a period of vacant-eyed digestive misery while watching the Redskins vs. the Patriots play lacrosse in the back meadow.

Franklin: Oh, look, here comes my calves head puree, yummmm.


Observoid of the Day: Slather enough butter on there and pig snout dressing is pretty tasty.

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1 Response to The Unknown History of Thanksgiving

  1. tmb says:

    Dr. Clown,

    Very impressive historical research!

    I have recently come upon some additional details that must have been missing in the transcript you were able to obtain:

    To wit, there must have been another participant in the tavern discussion whose contributions were suppressed. This one advocated something more pagan for the holiday – dressing up in disguise, roaming the streets and causing a ruckus! Maybe it was Tom Paine. Whoever he was, his arguments seemed to have succeeded for quite a while.

    To quote The Protojournalist:
    “Oddest thing: Thanksgiving in turn-of-the-20th century America used to look a heckuva lot like Halloween.

    People — young and old — got all dressed up and staged costumed crawls through the streets. … reported in 1911 that ‘fantastically garbed youngsters and their elders were on every corner of the city.’ …The throwing of confetti and even flour on pedestrians is an allowable pastime.’ ”

    see reference at When Thanksgiving Was Weird

    respectfully yours,

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