THANKSGIVING.

Thanksgiving (which we are celebrating today in the U.S.) has always struck me as a strange word. In the United States it pretty much refers only to the holiday, though I suppose Catholics have masses of thanksgiving, and since the holiday is celebrated only in the U.S. and Canada (where it is the second Monday of October) the name can’t really be translated. If you look it up in a bilingual dictionary it will give something that translates back to “day of giving thanks,” but that doesn’t really work, because the etymological sense of thanksgiving very much takes a back seat to what is for practical senses its meaning: “day when you stuff yourself with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie and (if you’re so inclined) watch football until your eyeballs bleed.” Sure, newspapers run pieces on What We Are Grateful For, and I’m sure there are people who truly do give thanks for the good things in their life, but it is very far from being (as a foreigner with nothing but dictionary descriptions might think) a pious day when we all sit around counting our blessings.
Also, this story by Craig Wilson discusses Robyn Gioia, a Florida woman who claims that the “REAL First Thanksgiving” was in St. Augustine and the holiday should commemorate “a Spanish explorer who landed here on Sept. 8, 1565, and celebrated a feast of thanksgiving with Timucua Indians” (who “dined on bean soup”). Now, what could this mean? As Robert Makin, a local tour guide, says, “I also don’t think they called it Thanksgiving. You can’t even call it Thanksgiving if it’s not even English. Thanksgiving is an English word.” Surely there were lots of occasions when early settlers sat down with the locals for an amicable dinner; the holiday commemorates a particular such occasion at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621, and I don’t see what sense it makes to try to antedate it.
In any event, happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!
Update. I can now report dinner was superb (we had the turkey butterflied, which cuts way down on the roasting time and gets everything equally cooked), and if anyone wants wine recommendations, I’ve done a lot of experimentation over the years and am very happy with rosé and zin. We had a bottle of each (a 2006 Belleruche Côtes du Rhône from M. Chapoutier, and a 2005 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel) and finished up with pumpkin pie, cherry pie, and good strong coffee.
Also, Mark Liberman has a good discussion of the word thanksgiving over at the Log (followup here), and I hereby offer my congratulations on his being elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see Arnold Zwicky’s post, in which he correctly says that “it’s confusing that the word fellow gets used for two different kinds of academic awards”).

Comments

  1. Just for clarity–our church has regular prayers of thanksgiving during worship services, usually at least a couple of times a month. We are Presbyterians.
    I think the ‘thanks’ part of the day isn’t so much “a pious day…” as a time set aside to highlight those things that we have instead of complaining (as many are wont to do) about what we don’t have. Among people I know, that seems to be the general idea, anyway.
    And happy turkey to you, too. ;-)

  2. If you look it up in a bilingual dictionary it will give something that translates back to “day of giving thanks,” but that doesn’t really work, …

    It works as much as other feasts in what used to be called Christendom, I think; Christmas and New Years and the Epiphany are distinctly different affairs in the various places where they have the same etymological name.

  3. Not the same. Sure, Christmas is celebrated differently, but it is the same holiday, and I don’t see that Christmas = Navidad is any different than city = ciudad (cities are different in different countries too).

  4. mollymooly says:

    Yeah, “Thanksgiving” is a weird name. If it was British, it would be called “The November Bank Holiday”.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Côtes du Rhône! There is a French word cote, which is pronounced differently and means lots of different things.

  6. And there is Art Buchwald’s immortal “Jour du Merci Donnant” in which he explains Thanskgiving to French readers of the International Herald Tribune.
    Enjoy it at :
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/22/AR2006112201825.html
    and Happy Thanksgiving from London

  7. Côtes du Rhône!
    D’oh! Thanks, it’s fixed now. (I lazily copied it from a wine site and was too distracted by holiday activities to notice it looked wrong.)

  8. In Quebec it’s Action de Grâce … but it’s really just another chance for the Quebecoise to leave traffic-delaying highway reconstruction work unattended

  9. The blog of Oxford University Press USA also has a story about “the real first Thanksgiving”: http://blog.oup.com/2007/11/thanksgiving/.
    Apparently, “[t]he first time that anyone associated thanksgiving dinner with the Pilgrims was in 1841″.
    And “[t]he driving force behind making Thanksgiving a national holiday was a New Englander named Sarah Josepha Hale.”

  10. I think your turkey was probably spatchcocked, rather than butterflied, which is a term used for shrimp.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    but it’s really just another chance for the Quebecoise to leave traffic-delaying highway reconstruction work unattended

    Hah. Austrians don’t an excuse for that.

  12. “I think your turkey was probably spatchcocked, rather than butterflied, which is a term used for shrimp.”
    ‘Butterflied’ is also used for a leg of lamb, so it would fit for a turkey as well.

  13. That’s what the butcher called it, and I assume he knows.

Speak Your Mind

*