It’s only a few days since pumpkins sat on the doorsteps of my neighbor’s houses, children dressed as monsters grabbed candy from a bucket on my porch and hundreds of witches danced on the USU campus, at the Gardners’ Market, in old folk’s homes and Center Street.
It was a fun time. The coldest nights turned warm as happy people danced and brightened the long, dark nights and set the stage for a Thanksgiving where we fortunate Cache Valley folks can count our blessings and share our good fortune. But that day of thanks is being trumped by waste and greed.
The morning after Halloween, women whose dances brightened our valley for a fortnight were cleaning candy wrappers, cans and other debris left by costumed children and their parents who hurried from house to house, pushing, shoving and begging for factory-made and heat-sealed candy bars. Grandma’s homemade cup cakes, fresh fruit from our valley and cups of hot apple cider are no longer allowed for fear some nut would poison our happy, spooky children.
Thousands of pounds of beautiful, nutritious pumpkins, winter squash and local fruit were used as decorations. Tons of material that could have been cooked for humans, fed to livestock, fermented to alcohol or used as fertilizer were smashed, leaving a mess on our streets and lawns. What the early white settlers in our valley once stored for winter food ended up in garbage cans.
While children and witches were filling Halloween with joy, decorations in many of our stores were being replaced with fake Santa Clauses hanging from ceilings where a witch rode her broom the day before. The next day our mailboxes were filled with circulers urging shoppers to rush down and buy Chiristmas presents before the “bargains”were sold.
Buy now! Buy on credit if you must. But if you don’t buy now, someone else will get the latest and cheapest stuff made by low-paid workers in sweat shops in some foreign country. Turning Christmas into an opportunity to exploit cheap labor and fleece “we the people” is bad enough, but that was not what set me off. Ignoring our most important holiday, Thanksgiving, was a bit much for me to take.
Thanksgiving is a real American holiday. I suspect every American knows about early Pilgrim settlers in New England holding a meeting to give thanks to their God for allowing them to survive the frigid winters. Native Americans were invited and brought large native birds we now call turkeys. Without the help of “savages” whose land the immigrants took, our European forefathers would not have survived.
This original American holiday was established to give thanks for our survival in a foreign land. Over the years, it became an annual opportunity to share our good fortune with others. In my opinion, Thanksgiving is our most important American holiday.
As a child in the Texas hill county, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It was a time when my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents gathered together. The men butchered a goat or a barren ewe and barbecued it over a mesquite fire. Womenfolk cooked pecan pies, peach cobblers and lots of good sweet stuff. The meal was served in three sittings: The men ate first, children were fed at the second table and women ate at the third and cleaned the kitchen. Pies and cakes were put on a separate table and available all afternoon.
Turkey was seldom served at our Thanksgiving meals, but one exception is part of Box family lore. My parents didn’t raise turkeys because wild and domestic turkeys often crossbred. Wild turkeys were protected. Crossbreeds were not. Wild turkey hens near our house often mated with the neighbor’s Naragansette tom.
On Thanksgiving eve 1950, I drove 13 hours nonstop from Camp Gorden, Georgia, to my Texas home. After a short visit I went to sleep only to be awakened by Mother saying a turkey was in our woodpile. I pulled on my pants, grabbed Dad’s 10 gauge shotgun and moved slowly until I was in shotgun range. I gobbled, a turkey head popped above the wood and I fired. Turkeys filled the air. Most flew away, but three were flopping like chickens with their heads cut off. We had turkey instead of lamb that Thanksgiving.
Jenny and I married in July 1954 and cooked our first Thanksgiving turkey that fall. That, in itself, is a tale worth telling. The best we can remember, the only time we missed having a Thanksgiving turkey was our first year in Australia. We didn’t know we had to book a turkey a month in advance.
For many of my teaching years, we gathered and fed students who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving. We learned a lot. Many of our guests were foreign students whose religion forbid eating meat, had drink restrictions or lived by strict rules. But we never had one who thought Thanksgiving was silly.
I’ve got nothing against Christmas. A little less than a third of the world’s population are Christians ,and they should have the right to wear the Christian brand and celebrate any way they want. But I resent organizations and companies that use Christmas to sell their snake oil. The world would be better if everyone, not just one in three people on earth who are Christian, celebrated a day of thanksgiving.