In 1621 or 1622 the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast. The modern Thanksgiving holiday is commonly, though not universally, traced to this poorly documented celebration. The prior year, 46 of the 102 Pilgrims died. The following year resulted in a bountiful harvest, largely in part to a Wampanoag Indian the settlers called Squanto. He showed these Puritan settlers where to hunt and fish, and taught them how to grow crops like corn and squash. Harvest festivals and celebrations giving thanks for a plentiful harvest or delivery from draught or hardship, have been historically recorded throughout time. The Puritans may have borrowed the idea from something they witnessed elsewhere, or they may have simply wanted to share a feast with the Indians responsible for their abundant harvest and ultimate survival. George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by a President November 26, 1789. However, it wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held specifically the last Thursday of November.
For us, Thanksgiving can be a challenging holiday if you aren't celebrating exclusively with like minded folk. Though the President pardons one lucky turkey every year, an obscene number of birds are slaughtered for this holiday. Some estimates are as high as 45 or 46 million. It’s disconcerting and surreal for us to be seated around a table, giving thanks, with a dead carcass in the middle.
Everyone deals with it differently. When my children were young, I use to bring a delicious vegetarian entree to the extended family table, large enough for everyone to sample and enjoy. My theory has always been that good food is good food. I don’t want to limit people’s perspective by labeling it vegan or vegetarian. It’s either delicious, or it’s not. Later the feast got moved to my own table. Most of the family was more interested in the “sides” anyway, and didn't miss the carcass. The one or two out of twenty or so that did, brought their own little baggie of unmentionables. Everyone knows meat isn't allowed in my kitchen per se, but sometimes practicing tolerance and inclusion takes compromise on my part too.
Now not only have all our parents passed to the next life, but our children have all begun lives of their own. They have to juggle in laws and partner’s families, as well as their immediate siblings and parents. The 20 something attendance has dropped to about 8 or 10 as extended families vie for their children’s participation. Thanksgiving dinner will not be celebrated on the actual date in our house this year. It’s slated for the Friday after. Without thinking it through, I entertained the idea of breaking with tradition and having something totally nontraditional. Maybe curries, Thai salad, a beautiful rice dish, homemade sorbet.... My reasoning was that two heavy meals in a row was a bit unappetizing. Well, you would have thought that I was starting a campaign to annex the holiday. My husband complained first, staunchly stating that the girls were not going to like it. Thinking he was being a little melodramatic, I put it to a family vote. I lost. Traditional fare will be served. The nutritionist in me is having a bit of a meltdown, but dinner will be presented with everyone’s favorite dishes. My youngest, Keely, sent me a list from Arizona of all the things that needed to be on the table in case I forgot.
I was taken back by their adamant stand. Then they emails started to roll in. Our table does no harm. They could eat without inquiring what was in this or that. Though more decadent fare than usual, it’s natural and organic. It’s decorated with baby pumpkins and Indian corn instead of some poor, dead creature. It’s a luxury we take for granted when cooking a certain way becomes part of our free thought. But I forgot the biggest point of all. The traditional foods we serve are linked with our tradition of giving thanks at this time. Before the meal begins someone will read a quote that will remind us of all we have to be grateful for. It may come from Buddha or the Beatles, but it will remind us of our place in the circle of life.
The eventual devastating persecution of Indians in the United States and the destruction of billions of beautiful birds often blurs the spirit of Thanksgiving in this country for vegans. Try leading by example and making a new tradition of your own. Plan a dinner of your own, or bring something scrumptious to the community table that will WOW the carnivores and make them take a second look at your way of eating. In my humble opinion, demonstrating a spirit of re-connection to your grateful heart will satisfy more than one kind of hunger.
Our Thanksgiving Meal:
Seitan in gravy Stuffing Mashed Potatoes Roasted Brussels Sprouts Steamed Green Beans Peas Kale Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash Rolls (Made small and round in honor of Grandfather) Cranberry Sauce with Apples Corn Casserole Apple Pie Pumpkin Pie
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.