Thanksgiving brings reminders of how far we've come -- or not

Some traditions worthwhile

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2001

Has everyone wakened from their after-Thanksgiving day naps yet? Yawn once for yes, twice for no.

Congratulations to everyone who made it though Thursday without an oven fire, a new family grudge or a severe case of botulism. And to those who didn't, better luck next time. As someone who frequently screws up preparing Top Ramen, I have great respect for anyone who attempted preparing a Thanksgiving feast. Even if it only involved opening the cardboard box, cutting steam holes in the plastic film and cooking in the microwave on high for four to five minutes.

The Thanksgiving holiday can be summed up in one word: tradition. That's if you're a person residing in the United States. If you're a turkey, it expands to two words, the first being "oh" and the second consisting of four letters usually represented by random keyboard symbols, like #&@$.

This holiday is a dedication to American ingenuity, namely the American talent of getting others to do things for us. Basically we're celebrating the third-world sweatshops that make our sneakers and the American dog owners who teach their pets to fetch them beer.

This tradition began many moons ago when the Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving festival after producing enough food and supplies to last the winter at Plymouth Rock. The only reason the Pilgrims made it through this winter was because the local Native Americans took pity and translated a copy of the "Idiot's Guide to Not Dying in the Wilderness" for them. This reference contained many useful survival tips on harvesting corn, catching fish, building shelter and the like. There was even a terribly useful bonus chapter on how to avoid rashes when squatting in the woods.

In historical retrospect it appears the Native Americans would have been better off practicing skydiving without parachutes than becoming associated with the Pilgrims, or any other immigrants from Europe for that matter. At the time, however, the new settlers posed more of an amusement than a threat. Squanto went to his chief and asked leave to assist the new neighbors, totally oblivious to how the story would play out over the coming years.

"Come on, Chief, they don't even know which leaf to wipe with. What's the worst that could happen?"

These famous last words rank right up there on the irony scale with: "That Hitler guy's a nut case; nobody's going to follow him," "President Nixon has such an honest face," and "A show about stranding people on an island and awarding money to the last one there? Who would watch that?"

From this noble history comes the holiday of Thanksgiving. Today's holiday has lost much of its original significance since it's no longer a celebration of life over death, unless you count the very severe cases of food poisoning from undercooked turkeys.

But new holiday challenges, like getting the lumps out of the mashed potatoes and choosing whether to make cranberry sauce or just buy it from the store, have arisen to replace the ones that have been lost over the centuries.

Along with these new challenges are new things to be thankful for, like Velcro, remote-control car starters and spray cheese in a can.

Even though things have changed for this holiday since the days of the Pilgrims, we do still have one thing in common with them: tryptophan. Nature's cure for too much coffee, boring after-dinner conversation and reruns of "It's a Wonderful Life." There's nothing like a turkey-induced nap to fortify yourself to deal with the stress of the holiday season.

If only someone could bottle that.

Jenny Neyman is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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