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Oct 13, 2006 06:59 PM

Thanksgiving not a Southern Holiday?

Some friends with really old Virginia roots told me about this but I've had no luck with any research. They said older relatives refused to celebrate "that Yankee holiday" and would go hunting or do something else instead.
Lincoln proclaimed a national T'giving Day in 1863 and then Roosevelt in 1939 changed the date but his order wasn't mandatory. It was scornfully referred to by some as "Franksgiving" and FDR wasn't a Southern favorite anyway. Twenty-two states did not recognize it but I couldn't find a list.

Are there any vestiges of this left? I imagine that this thinking would be found among those in their 80s and 90s.
Anybody know anyone who still thinks this way? Or have any historical references about this?

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  1. There are some who believe the first Thanksgiving was at The Berkley Plantation in Charles City, VA (oustide of Richmond), not Plymouth. I have lived in Virginia and North Carolina all of my life and Thanksgiving has always been celebrated. Since it's my least favorite holiday, not celebrating is a tradition I could get behind.

    17 Replies
    1. re: Janet from Richmond

      I wonder if there is any way that we can convince you to give Thanksgiving a chance. It's one of my favorite holidays because it prompts us to gather together and spend time appreciating all that we have. There are no gifts involved and relatively little fuss apart from the meal. It can be celebrated very casually or with elegance depending on your preference and if you don't like to cook local inns tend to do a terrific job at Thanksgiving!

      Our family has had a long tradition of including 'displaced' visitors (foreign students and the like) in our celebration and one of my favorite Thanksgivings was with a group of new friends when we'd recently moved and were too busy at work to travel home. Including friends in your family celebration or even gathering friends instead of relatives is a great way to manage if you're having any family problems or travel issues.

      For me, the only difficult thing about Thanksgiving is football. I'm not a fan but I'm perfectly willing to make sandwiches for the whole gang on Friday. However, the first time my in laws turned on my television on Thanksgiving day was a genuine shock. Over the years we've managed to minimize the television viewing when we share the holiday with them but it is still a struggle that blows my mind.

      I've usually been cooking for a good week and some of our guests have driven eight hours to come together and there's some clod who thinks we should all sit in front of the boob tube!

      Still it's a great holiday!

      1. re: Kater

        Thanksgiving is my husband's favorite holiday to he refuses to (a) go out or (b) cater. We always host. My first problem is I don't like the meal itself aside from the dressing and sweet potatoes. And I hate the work. I sit at the table and all I can think of is the hours of work ahead of me. I hate wrapping up the leftovers for everyone to take home and I hate looking at them days later when they get thrown out. We are a football family and that is the only aspect I really like. It would be even better if I got to relax. Hubby does most of the cooking (the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes). I make the green beans, cranberry sauce, gravy and dessert and my brother makes oyster stew. And when my husband cooks, the kitchen is a disaster and every pot and pan and dish will be used. Just once I'd like to be the person who arrives with wine and leaves with some leftovers prepared for me.

        1. re: Janet from Richmond

          OK, this is going to be a long row to hoe!

          In our house, I cook and my husband cleans. I have gotten better at cleaning as I go, but still the prospect of dealing with the mess I've created would absolutely floor me.

          But I do not confine myself to a traditional menu by any stretch of the imagination and I try to really balance do-ahead with on-the-spot dishes. I'm not sure how your husband would feel about deviating. In our family, one in-law (she and are both in-laws) had a very hard time processing the idea that the meal wouldn't include all of her family's traditions - and some of them were just plain weird like sliced cranberry jelly in the shape of a tin can - but she eventually settled in as a guest.

          It's funny but while I don't actually mind sharing the leftovers per se, I am really irritated when people expect me to drop everything and prepare take-away parcels for them to bring home. Luckily I have one sister-in-law who is sent from the heavens and loves to tidy up. She makes custom packets for these yahoos after first learning which dishes they're most interested in bringing home!

          Wait! Have you every discussed hiring a maid and butler service? It sounds like your husband is into the cooking and the hosting, so catering is out. But there is no reason that you can't hire 1,2 or 3 staff to come in and do everything you don't want to do. I love to set and decorate the table, but some people hate it and the butler services are happy to do that for you. They'll polish the glasses, clean the kitchen. Set and clear and even clean up. Then you could enjoy the football game without worrying about a sinkful of yucky dishes!

          1. re: Kater

            Aha! So "sliced cranberry jelly in the shape of a tin can" might be weird if you grew up in the NE but cranberries don't grow in the South or most of the US. The Ocean Spray marketing people persuaded America that we should have cranberries for T'giving and that's what they sold us.
            Until my aunt died at 93, if there was a turkey on the table, there better be a plate of that slimy stuff - even if it was July!

            A lot of what is thought of as "traditional" T'giving food is marketing or based on NE regional cooking. There are ethnic and regional variations, e.g. Italian families with a pasta course, Hispanic pavo recipes. Family customs evolve - I've had to add mashed potatoes (of all things!) to my South Louisiana menu to accommodate a Mid-Western son-in-law.

            I usually ask guests what is the one food that means T'giving to them. I end up with rice, mashed potatoes and sweet pototoes, two types of dressing and Lord knows how many pies (which I can usually talk others into bringing.) I'm thrilled to send the leftovers out the door!
            But nobody ever wants the cranberries!

            1. re: MakingSense

              I LOVE your idea about asking guests which dish typifies Thanksgiving for them. Had I asked in advance I could have found a lot of fun in the Can-berries, but it was off putting to be faulted for not serving them! And some of the best home cooking I've ever enjoyed has come from friends' family traditions.

              In my opinion, apart from giving thanks, the real reason for Thanksgiving is mashed potatoes! I see that you're not a fan, but I so enjoy mashed potatoes that I can only allow myself to have them twice a year; Thanksgiving and New Years. Left to my own devices, I would eat them on a plane, I would eat them in the rain, etc...

              We also try to include a few ethnic dishes as hors d'oeuvres. My son is Korean so I make pajeon, a savory pancake with seafood, each year and even the timid have come to look forward to it. The cousins have come to think of it as his special dish and it's helped them to see his ethnicity as a neat little tidbit rather than a big deal.

              Oh and Pies, this is where things get really weird. My husband's family requires coconut custard pie. If you let them bring it, it will come from your grocer's freezer case. But this must be a regional thing because in the Philadelphia area all of our good pie bakeries offer it at Thanksgiving. I happen to enjoy coconut custard pie but everyone knows it's not for Thanksgiving ; )

              Of course, I make mincemeat every year and unless my family joins us (usually we see them at Christmas) I eat it all alone while everyone else looks at me cross-eyed. I tried to convert a brother-in-law one year by explaining that I'd used vast quantities of rum to make it. He gave it a try, but was right back on the coconut custard!

              1. re: Kater

                Several years ago, I read an article that featured anthropologist Sidney Mintz talking about how family food choices at Thanksgiving were pretty powerful indicators of ethnic heritage, a family's feelings of (or aspirations to) "Americanness" and of regional food culture. I wish I could find the damn indexing needs an overhaul.

                1. re: Kater

                  My fianc├ęs family had coconut custard pie and longneck pumpkin pie. My family did pumpkin using one pie brand from the can, pecan and usually apple.

                2. re: MakingSense

                  My mother said damn my new in-laws there will be a pasta course at Thanksgiving. We'll see because I don't see them getting into a multiple course meal.

                3. re: Kater

                  The maid service is an idea. I don't know how hard that would be for Thanksgivng. And I don't mind people taking the leftovers (I wish they would take all of them). I hate having to wrap them up for everyone (and of course I provide the Gladware, etc.) And Hubby would never deviate from the traditional. I had to fight long and hard to have my brothers sweet potatoes (which are fabulous) instead of the marshmallow kind. I have learned to write off Thanksgiving as an enjoyable day and just get through it. However, I love Christmas dinner. Hubby and my brother grill a beef tenderloin and we have salad and scalloped potatoes. It's elegant, easy and much more scrumptious than Thanksgiving dinner. And we get the leftovers and make steak subs with them.

                4. re: Janet from Richmond

                  Your situation sounds like parents'. It amazes me that year after year certain family members completely take the meal for granted and seem to have no idea how much trouble my parents go to--from cleaning, decorating, shopping and cooking to serving and then cleaning up. At the very least these people should contribute more than a bottle of wine or, if we're lucky, maybe a salad.

                  1. re: Glencora

                    My brother contributes oyster stew and sweet potatoes. My MIL contributes being a pain in the ass. She has never brought anything but attitude to any holiday dinner.

                  2. re: Janet from Richmond

                    You say hubby objects to catering but what about hiring a cleaning person for the day to clean up the mess? In our family when there is a big meal for a lot of people the hostess always has someone on hand in the kitchen with her.
                    I don't see how your husband could object to this. It would probably only cost $50 or so and it would be worth much more than that in terms of the grief it would save you.

                  3. re: Kater

                    I totally get from a holiday what you put into it...and there's something wonderful about giving thanks....
                    Thank you for sharing your families traditions...

                  4. re: Janet from Richmond

                    You still take the day off though, right??


                  5. I agree- my favorite Holiday. It is one of the few times of the year when the entire family- ( 25+) get together for a sit down meal. I do the Thanksgiving meal and the pies, and my brothers and SIL's do the appetizers, candies and other desserts.
                    It was always my dads favorite holiday (he passed away a few years ago), so maybe that is why my mom, brothers and I love it. And this love has passed onto our kids. Everyone has some favorite thing they like, and I make sure to prepare it to include with dinner ( which means making a small chicken for a non turkey eating neice!). We all get together, eat, enjoy the day, go for a walk and then watch football. Love it!

                    1. Btw, this year is an example of the difference between traditional Thanksgiving and Franksgiving...there were longtime holdouts in northern New England (I have the image of flannel-clad versions of Japanese warriors who hid out in the Pacific islands for decades after WW2 (aka The Big One), holding pitchforks instead of samuri swords) who only celebrated traditional Thanksgiving on the *last* Thursday of November, public holiday or not.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Karl S

                        FDR changed T'giving from the last Thursday in November to the 4th Thursday to make a longer Christmas shopping season, hoping to help with the Depression.
                        A lot of people objected which is why your New England traditionalist stuck to the old date. There were some who celebrated BOTH dates for quite a few years.
                        Still most people in America, think we've been eating turkey and celebrating since the pilgrims. Guess we don't know much about our history. Or our culinary history.

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          Btw, *THE* quintessential Yankee (meaning New England) "holiday" would be.....

                          Fast Day.

                          It was the companion of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was happily adopted by non-Yankees. Fast Day was left to a portion of New England. Definitely *not* a Chowhound feast.

                      2. Not being a southerner, I could see why they wouldn't want to celebrate a Yankee holiday in the late 1800's or early 1900's.

                        They did not have much to be thankful for. Having lost family members to a Civil War. Having Yankee's dictate laws and taxes on them and their land.

                        Even though the country was united, we were still divided back then.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Infomaniac

                          Info, But the South went on to invent the Turducken; I consider that to be a sign the South has finally returned to the fold and embraced the holiday once again. Remember, too, it was the Yankees that invented green jello with shredded carrots on top. (Which may explain why Thanksgiving is not popular with many Chowhounds that have posted.)

                          1. re: Leper

                            Turducken was invented in medieval France and the brought to the American south by the Acadian French, or "Cajuns". However, as turkeys were unknown by Europeans before their discovery of the new world, the prototype "turducken" was likely a pig or a sheep stuffed with successively smaller critters. People have been hunting, farming, roasting and eating turkeys in the New World ever since they got here, and American southerners are no exception. It's probably Lincoln's decree of Thanksgiving as a national holiday that left a bad taste in the collective "mouth of the south", not the turkey that's come to be associated with it.

                        2. Regarding the leftovers, in both my family and my in-laws, it's always bring your own containers and fill them up yourself. Never have I been to a family function where we expected the host to package up the leftovers for us. Maybe you can suggest everyone to bring their own tupperware and just tell them to have at it before you start to clean up?

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Rick

                            I can do that with my brother (and it's a very good suggestion). With my MIL, that won't be feasible. She won't even pour herself a drink or hang up her own coat.

                            1. re: Janet from Richmond

                              We have a few like your mother in law in our extended family and I've found a perfect correlation between people who _never_ entertain/host and people who I have to wait upon.

                              I hope you'll look into the butler service, it sounds like you could use a person for the MIL alone! You can usually find the larger agencies in the phonebook and Craig's List is another good source for domestic help. It's smart to start early, but staff is available on the holidays.

                            2. re: Rick

                              I keep around old cottage cheese and the like containers for sending leftovers home. That way I don't need to get them back.