Coronavirus, Christmas aside, American Thanksgiving returns Thursday
Often overlooked holiday gets its day in oven
CHICAGO, United States
Like most Americans, Dave Baier's childhood memories of Thanksgiving Day revolve around family, food and football.
"The kids' table and the adults' table," he remembers. "When you're a kid, you always wanted to sit at the adult table, and you never knew what went on there, you thought they had better food or had better conversations and you'd get more attention."
This year, the 47-year-old native of Port Huron, in the US state of Michigan, will not have that problem. He is the chef and the host for a gathering for five family members. And on Thursday, they will sit down to the traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, potatoes and assorted greens.
"Thanksgiving for me was the always about the family," he told Anadolu Agency. "Forget about Christmas, forget about Easter."
"You get to look forward to that one meal that everybody can sit down to and enjoy. It's always the same meal, you already know what you're going to get and it's just about being with everyone in your family."
This year's American Thanksgiving, and the enormous amount of travel associated with it, is seen as a return to pre-pandemic enthusiasm. Airlines will be tested by passenger numbers that are expected to be at 2019 levels. In Illinois, the state's tollway system is expecting auto traffic at its highest Thanksgiving level in four years.
But new this year, higher inflationary prices are also on the menu, from turkey to rental cars to fuel.
"There's items that we eat that are still relatively inexpensive," said Baier, "like the green bean casserole. But the main course, the turkey, is a lot more expensive than I was expecting."
"You have to do the math," he said, comparing the cost of the meal to the number of people eating. "You want everyone to get seconds on the meal, but you don't want to waste a lot of left-overs."
This year will be a little more poignant for Baier's family. His mother died suddenly in October.
"I'm sure it's going to hit us hard with her not being with us. She had tons of Thanksgiving recipes, and all that went away with her."
Historians agree on the basic facts behind what turned out to be the first "Thanksgiving": a three-day feast in 1621 among the first European colonists to America, the Pilgrims, and a group of Native Americans known as the Wampanoag tribe. The feast, held in what is now the area of Plymouth, Massachusetts, was the Pilgrims' way to "thank" the tribe for helping with a successful harvest, during a time when the Pilgrims and the tribe were suffering high mortality rates.
The feast became highly romanticized through the years, and eventually felt bitter, given the way the American government would later systematically kill off or contain Native Americans.
But the idea of two very different populations meeting for a feast of corn, squash, beans and deer meat struck a poetic nerve, especially for Sarah Josepha Hale, a popular home economics writer.
In 1863, she successfully lobbied then-President Abraham Lincoln to declare a national Thanksgiving holiday during the US Civil War. He agreed that the holiday could be a way to heal the nation's bitter divisions at the time, but much like today, the move was polarizing.
Southern Confederate states saw Thanksgiving, which had been championed in the North, as a tool of the anti-slavery movement, and for many years resisted it.
Still, by the time it was declared a full-fledged, federal day-off holiday in 1941, Thanksgiving traditions were being born that helped heal the division -- among them the colorful annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, in 1924. It is now the world's largest parade, a showcase for huge inflatable balloon characters and floats that make their way through New York City streets.
And Sarah Hale could have never predicted the wildly popular professional football games that populate the day.
The National Football League originally designated just one, nationally-televised game on Thanksgiving. Now, three games are played back-to-back, providing a day-long backdrop for most Americans' Thanksgiving feasts.
The first football game always features Baier's beloved Lions of Detroit, just down the road from Port Huron, and he has a house rule about that: "Come before the game or come after the game, but not during the game."
With each passing year, the Thanksgiving holiday seems to get more and more steamrolled by the Christmas holiday. Department stores start putting out Christmas items as early as August, and in Chicago, a popular radio station plays nothing but Christmas music, non-stop, through the end of the year - starting right after Halloween.
Baier laments how the most "giving" holiday, Thanksgiving, is by-passed "by the most retailed holiday."
For years, retail stores have been starting their traditional "Black Friday" sales, the day after Thanksgiving, ever earlier, to the point where some stores remain open on Thanksgiving.
But more recently, there has been push-back: some stores have reversed course, and Target announced this year that it will go back to remaining closed on Thanksgiving Day.
And in American neighborhoods, a few die-hards still dress up their homes for Thanksgiving.
Judy Simon of Racine, Wisconsin decks her front yard with Thanksgiving icons, including three giant inflatable balloons of two Pilgrims and a turkey.
"Life goes by so fast, you need to slow it down," she said, "and let's take a break and celebrate Thanksgiving before we get to Christmas."
"I'm so thankful we've made it through (COVID-19) and we've got another holiday, and this time we can get together. I'm so thankful for my blessings."
For people who have to work on the holiday, from emergency workers to hospital staff to airline employees, many are given the choice of working on Thanksgiving or Christmas, a month later.
Tony Statz, a television news producer in Detroit, has been choosing to work on Thanksgiving for the last 30 years.
"Christmas just seems more festive, more fun," he said, "better decorations."
"I always like the presents better," he joked.
But he said as he gets older, "it does get harder and harder because you do realize time is passing and you may not get to see family that much longer. But for me, I'm in a profession where you have to make trade-offs."
Employers also usually provide meals that are, somewhat, Thanksgiving-like. Statz and his co-workers will get fast-food style Turkey and potatoes this year.
And he will at least avoid the long joked-about aspect of family members, some with wildly differing political and cultural views, who gather at one table, just as it was in 1621.
"If we don't argue," Dave Baier said, "that makes it even better."