Liz Smith Celebrates T-Day

A Happy Thanksgiving from our Gossip Girl

“THANKSGIVING IS indeed the nearest thing we have to a national liturgy. From sea to shining sea, it calls forth a grand harmony of groaning boards … Yet what must we think of a nation that, as the central motif of this gustatory concerto, insists upon a bird that has a name used chiefly as an insult!”

So pontificated Episcopal theologian Robert Farrar Capon way back in the 1980s when he was writing of Thanksgiving for the N. Y. Times.

The dear old turkey has suffered the slings and arrows of many attackers, yet if the big bird is simply roasted properly, according to excellent recipes (and there are millions of them) the dish can be quite tasty, bearing no resemblance to the horrible processed “turkey” we get offered every day in delicatessen sandwiches.

At any rate, people go on trying to let turkey eating get out of control and to make Thanksgiving special because they eat about 46,000,000 million turkeys each November. And approximately 80% or 31.2 million Americans travel by car, 4.7 million by plane, 33 million by train or bus for this holiday to get with family, hated in-laws, deserted cousins and dear friends. And along with turkeys, Americans also celebrate at this time the lowly cranberry, which is one of the rare fruits native to North America.

The above mentioned Rev. Capon has also noted that Thanksgiving “is the only nationwide festival we have that still involves honest and considerable ‘sit-down eating.’ It is the perfect holiday, superior to all other federally finagled four-day weekends.” He noted that other holidays are … vacancies in time … Thanksgiving, by contrast, has not only a common theme but a common ritual as well … Thanksgiving is better even than Hanukkah, Christmas, Passover or Easter. Those festivities, while they involve unifying activities, are enjoyable chiefly in anticipation. The feasts themselves are letdowns. Advent, for instance, is fun: it has in Christmas, a future that brightens each dark December day. When Dec. 25 finally rolls around, it is simply a present with no future whatsoever to look forward to. Thanksgiving, however, has Advent, Hanukkah and Christmas waiting to burst upon us the minute the dishwasher is loaded.”

I rather admire writer Bryan Miller’s defense of the turkey. He says it “deserves respect for tradition’s sake,” noting that “more than any other food, it embodies the early American spirit; tireless effort against depressing odds, spiritual sustenance, season renewal.” And he adds the reminder that turkeys are close to red meat in protein content but only about 11 % fat, even less if the skin is not included. A serving has about 9 grams of fat and that is unsaturated. So chow down, you food purists!

* * *

SENTIMENTALISTS believe the first Thanksgiving occurred about 1621 when early settlers shared a feast with the native Indians. (I rather imagine they were more worried about the natives eating them than in what they had to eat with the natives.)

It wasn’t until back in the 1820’s that President Abraham Lincoln declared a Thursday in November “a national day of Thanksgiving.” But it was the poetic magazine writer Sarah Josepha Hale who badgered and prodded throughout the 19th century for there to be a real Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday. (This woman also wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”)

Congress didn’t really act on her suggestion until 1941, while it was busy with World War II.

* * *

I LOVE Thanksgiving because it’s the one holiday one doesn’t have to worry about proper gift-giving.

You can offer to bring dessert, or grab a bottle of champagne, a bouquet of flowers, a box of candy and everybody thinks you’re a prince.

I see that the late and sainted Russell Baker didn’t think much of eating turkey. He said he rated turkey “as just slightly better than the Miss America Pageant, but not quite as good as the Super Bowl, and about on a par with the Academy Awards show.”

Well, I am happy that most of my friends have very good cooks, or they are very good cooks themselves and they follow the directions that make their turkeys come out perfectly. Add gravy, which I can make with one hand tied behind my back, and stuffing of almost any kind or variety, plus the cranberries and viola! Perfection.

And what about the next day? Turkey with cranberry sauce, mayonnaise on white bread or rye. This is truly the reason to observe Thanksgiving — and I do mean, — the day after!

We have a lot to be thankful for even in the most perilous times and so I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving and all the best part of the turkey. (I love the Pope’s nose — the tail — myself.) Thank heaven Ben Franklin didn’t get his wish of making the turkey the national bird. We’d be eating eagle.

15 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Lila says:

    LOL! Happy Thanksgiving, Liz.

  2. avatar Linda says:

    Happy Thanksgiving and in WOW tradition – it means it won’t be long before Mr. Wow tells of decorating this years Christmas tree!

  3. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Liz, I too love Thanksgiving. No gifts, I get to cook like a fiend, everybody gets to mangia with abandon, and then we all (well, all four of us, plus the thirteen fat felines) laze around, watch football (My sweet Rusty finally explained the game to me, so that I can actually watch and understand what is happening…and admire all of those healthy, fit fellows in spandex pants too), engage in amusing conversation, ludicrous sports commentating, and act as cat furniture. What could be better? Even if I don’t like turkey (better than chicken, I’ve got a thing about chickens. Brrr…).

    Almost all of the other holidays are either religious, or totally manufactured (I have never seen diamonds pushed with such crazed fervor and determination on Mother’s Day and Christmas as the last few years. I am guessing that the exposure of the hideous and untenable conditions in the African diamond mines may have reached a lot of thinking peoples’ ears. Kiss my ass, DeBeers.), and for us they are mostly a reason to do the same thing we do on Thanksgiving…I cook (home-made. authentic Calabrian-Style spaghetti and meatballs at Christmas, scalloped potato and ham casserole…scratch, on New Year’s Day, Lamb and Cheese Grits…we’re multi-cultural…on Easter, along with deviled eggs), schmooze, maybe watch a movie, tie the tree to the wall because the hairballs like to roost in it. Yes, there are gifts on Christmas-Solstice-Yule-Mithras’ Birthday-Kybele’s and Atis’ Feast Day (pick your deity…it’s always been the longest night of the year, I’ve run the deities in reverse order, and the Christians changed the date)…but since the boys became young men, they’ve gotten a lot smaller. The point is breaking out the china, eating something that takes a little longer to prepare, and being together. I cook all the time, we sit down to dinner together almost every night…but we all go out of our way a little on those days. A few more hugs, a bit of indulgence (chocolate cheesecake and pecan pie), family time and peace.

    A peaceful, gentle and warm Thanksgiving full of love and comfort to you, Liz, and everyone.

    From Texas, where I’ll be fighting off Sebastian the turkey leg thieving cat tomorrow.


    • avatar LandofLove says:

      Briana, I love your phrase “a peaceful, gentle, and warm Thanksgiving full of love and comfort.” I wish the same to you and everyone at wOw.

  4. avatar Grace OMalley says:

    LOL @ “The Pope’s nose”.  My mother always called it the “nubbin”.  Happy Thanksgiving Liz.

  5. avatar Rho says:

    Happy Thanksgiving Liz, and to all.

  6. avatar Frau Quink says:

    A Very Happy Thanksgiving to wonderful Liz and all the interesting WOW contributors!
    Thanks to you all, there are no dull moments…….

  7. avatar John Mathews says:

    I admire Liz S. writing and I am thankful she wrote of the great Holiday.  She is my daily read.


  8. avatar O E says:

    I agree with you on how ecumenical (in a non-religious way) Thanksgiving is, Liz. I also thank you for all the info on its origins, although I would suspect native Americans could frown at your statement ” they were more worried about the natives eating them than in what they had to eat with the natives”. After all, it was the native Americans who ended up downtrodden by the settlers, even after they taught the settlers how to survive in the new land. The settlers had their religious beliefs which made them fearful, the weapons, and the arrogance to use them so they were never in danger of being eating by the natives.

    Now, after celebrating gluttony, let us go on to celebrate materialism and one-upmanship for the rest of the year. The stores and open and stocked to the rafters, ready to celebrate Christmas.

  9. avatar Rho says:

    Chanukah comes before Christmas.  I am not going out to the stores on Black Friday.

  10. avatar Lila says:

    And now, to paraphrase Robert Capon for Black Friday…

    “THANKSGIVING IS indeed the nearest thing we have to a national liturgy. From sea to shining sea, it calls forth a grand harmony of groaning boards … Yet what must we think of a nation that, as the central motif of this gustatory concerto, insists upon …”

    … immediately departing from the table to commit mayhem and violence in the selfish quest for some toy that is absolutely not necessary to life, liberty, happiness or anything else?

    What are we to think of people pepper-spraying other shoppers in an effort to snag some cheap merchandise? It has really gotten out of control.

  11. avatar HauntedLady says:

    “It wasn’t until back in the 1820’s that President Abraham Lincoln…”
    Is this a typo? Lincoln wasn’t elected to the Presidency until 1860.

    I appreciate your whole attitude about Thanksgiving. It’s been my favorite holiday for years. No gifts, just a good meal with those you love, a nice visit with the ones from far off and a general feeling of satisfaction. So that I may retain those feelings for as long as possible, I eschew Black Friday shopping.

  12. avatar Lucia de Jesus says:

    I too wish all Americans a very happy warless Thanksgiving. I too love this special day.

  13. avatar Anais P says:

    I can’t believe the reverend who was critical of centering Thanksgiving on a bird whose name is an insult, himself has a surname that is a synonym for castrated rooster. Turkeys are delicious and American in origin and are therefore the appropriate entree for this national holiday of gratitude. Indeed, Ben Franklin himself favored the turkey, which he called “a bird of courage,” as national bird over the bald eagle, which he called a bird “of bad moral character.” The bald eagle does look noble; I guess even in the early days of the USA, looks won out over character!

    • avatar O E says:

      Yes, the bald eagle is immoral. It is a BIRD OF PREY. Bad choice for an emblem, unless it does properly represents that for which it stands: unrelenting power over the helpless.