Tak for Mad

Nov. 26 - So I still haven't found ground cloves, evaporated milk, fresh yams, or a turkey that could hold its own against a guinea hen. These things will, I'm sure, work out in the end, but if push comes to shove I'm fully prepared to serve curried pumpkin soup, orange-cranberry relish, gravy, stuffing, and green beans in lemon-cilantro sauce alongside a couple of pizzas.

Thanksgiving isn't about the food, after all. It's about football, and gluttony (which has to do with quantity, not quality), and irritating your family.

And being irritated by them.

In fact, family's probably the most important part of all, which is why behavioral healthcare providers look at Thanksgiving the way dentists look at Halloween. Anyway, my own immediate family is safely distributed up and down the American east coast this week, where they can do me no harm. I will instead be dealing with my Danish in-laws, who, being ignorant of our traditions, won't know enough to bring their heavy psychological warfare weapons.

And so I face the absolutely un-American prospect of a Thanksgiving dinner table bereft of sizzling asides and lacerating glances. We won't be loading our plates with generous familial servings of disapproval or disappointment. It just ain't right.

(Tak for mad, in case you're wondering, is Danish for "thanks for the meal." They pronounce mad as if it rhymed either with "bell" or the first syllable of "weather," or something in between. It's a sound they utter easily and hear distinctly—you can't bullshit them by saying "meth" or "mell"—but it's apparently impossible for the non-Scandinavian so don't try it at home without close supervision.)

A Brief History of Thanksgiving

In the winter of 1620-1621, a group of immigrants in Massachusetts experienced a devastating winter. The weather was fierce. Food was scarce. Many died. At last spring came, then summer, and by the time of the autumn harvest things were looking about as rosy as they ever look in Massachusetts.

At a fundraising dinner that fall, Governer Bradford stood up and gave a speech.

"Thank God we survived last winter," he said. "Thank God this harvest gives us a fighting chance to survive the coming winter. And thank you for your support in the last election. Please make checks payable to the Committee to Re-Elect the Governor, God bless America, amen. Let's eat."

The ensuing winter didn't turn out too badly, so the superstitious immigrants concluded that Governor Bradford's magic spell of "Thanksgiving" had done the trick.

The holiday was intermittently celebrated for years, with an enthusiasm proportionately scaled to the previous winter's weather, until November 26, 1789, when President Washington issued a proclamation calling for a nationwide day of thanksgiving for the establishment of the Constitution.

Washington's proclamation wasn't much different from Bradford's.

"Thank God we survived last winter," he said. "Thank God we've got a fighting chance to survive the coming winter. Thank God we've got our own damn country now and don't have to put up with a bunch of meddling European bastards. And thank you for your support in the last election. Please make checks payable to Federalists for Washington, God bless America, amen. Let's eat."

(The subsequent Jefferson-Hamilton foodfight can be overlooked.)

President Washington, the Constitution, and many of the immigrants (who were now Americans) survived the winter, so this new spell was also deemed effective.

President Lincoln later proclaimed the last Thursday of November Thanksgiving Day in 1863, but President Roosevelt moved it back to the fourth Thursday of the month in 1939 to extend the time available for holiday shopping.

President Ford proposed making it the third Wednesday in September, in order to really extend the time available for holiday shopping, but he only made the proposal to his golden retriever, Liberty, so the suggestion never reached congress.

And so we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year, in honor of having survived last winter, having got rid of those meddling European bastards, having invented our own rules, having bitch-slapped the Confederacy, and having plenty of time to shop before the holidays.

Amen. Let's eat.

* * *

Readers who remain cynical and ungrateful might find cause for gratitude for at least one of the following historical events.

On November 30, 30 BC, Cleopatra killed herself. Be grateful you've avoided poisonous snakes this long.

On November 30, 1935, the German government proclaimed a failure to accept the tenets of Nazism as grounds for divorce. Be grateful you never married a Nazi.

Jonathan Swift was born on November 30, 1667, and Mark Twain was born exactly 168 years later, in 1835. Be grateful that not everyone is taking everything so goddam seriously.

Winston Churchill was also born on November 30, in 1874. Be grateful that not everyone was so grateful for Peace In Our Time.

Woody Allen was born on December 1, 1935. Be grateful you've got your neuroses under control.

* * *

Jimi Hendrix would have been sixty-one on November 27. He shared his birthday with Robin Givens (1964), Caroline Kennedy (1957), Eddie Rabbit (1941), Bruce Lee (1940), "Buffalo" Bob Smith (1917), James Agee (1909), and Anders Celsius (1701).

November 28 is the birthday of Anna Nicole Smith (1967), Judd Nelson (1959), Ed Harris (1950), Alexander Godunov (1949), Paul Shaffer (1949), Randy Newman (1943), Berry Gordy, Jr. (1929), Claude Levi-Strauss (1908), Brooks Atkinson (1894), William Blake (1757), and John Bunyan (1628).

November 29 is the birthday of Howie Mandel (1955), Garry Shandling (1949), Chuck Mangione (1940), Diane Ladd (1932), Vin Scully (1927), Madeline L'Engle (1918), Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908), C.S. Lewis (1898), Busby Berkeley (1895), Louisa May Alcott (1832), and Christian Doppler (1803).

November 30 is the birthday of Ben Stiller (1965), Bo Jackson (1962), Billy Idol (1955), Shuggie Otis (1953), David Mamet (1947), Robert Guillaume (1937), Abbie Hoffman (1936), G. Gordon Liddy (1930), Dick Clark (1929), Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (1923), Winston Churchill (1874), Mark Twain (1835), and Jonathan Swift (1667).

November 27 is Thanksgiving in the United States and Flag Day in Paraguay.

November 28 is Independence Day in both Mauritania and Panama.

November 29 is Liberation Day in Albania, William Tubman's Birthday in Liberia, Unity Day in Vanuatu, and Republic Day in Yugoslavia.

November 30 is Independence Day in Barbados and Yemen, Name Change Day (!) in Benin, Flag Day in Bolivia and Vietnam, National Heroes' Day in the Philippines, and St. Andrew's Day in Scotland.

Enjoy the holiday.

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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