Philosophy on Thanksgiving
I am trying to decide what to prepare for thanksgiving dinner this year and I'm having a philosophical quandry. Is thanksgiving more about celebrating the first thanksgiving...the pilgrims giving thanks for their new land, feasting with the indians, etc. or is it more about what we are thankful for now, spending time with our families and our family traditions? I'm trying to decide whether to include dishes that were possibly at the first thanksgiving, but that may mean that some of the family traditional favorites may go by the wayside. We are a family of hunters so it would be easy for us to incorporate a wild turkey, venison and possibly some wild fowl, like in the first thanksgiving, but there were no sweet potatoes, no green bean casserole and no pie at the origional thanksgiving. Would it take away from the experience to not have these staples? Is it about the origional thanksgiving or about our own thanksgiving?
Since you asked, if there is anything "official" about its intent, it is what each President since Lincoln has issued in the annual proclamation of a day of national thanksgiving. The NY Times (maybe no more?) faithfully printed these for years in its former roles as national paper of record. The current Adminstration seems to release its proclamations much closer to the day than was previously the case, when proclamations where issued well in advance. I don't see the 2006 proclamation up at the White House site.
Which is a long way of saying that Thanksgiving is not about historical recreation but about the present.
For me, Thanksgiving is about tradition - the traditions my family has developed over the years. All the components of the Thanksgiving meal (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc) are integral to my enjoyment of the day and I would be quite unhappy if anything was left out of the meal or swapped for something new. Every year I read all the Thanksgiving issues of my favorite food magazines and ooh and aah over the latest way to cook turkey or new and fun side dishes, but in the end, our meal is always the same.
That being said, I know a lot of people for whom variety is the spice of life and they love making new dishes every year. I think your idea of making Thanksgiving dinner the way the pilgrims did could be fun, but only if you have the kind of family who doesn't mind changing things up every year.
Hmmm, personally I think you are taking too much of an "all or nothing" approach. For me it's a combination of celebrating both past and present. In fact I don't see how it could be strictly one or the other. It's a traditional holiday that each person makes their own in one way or another every year. So I give thanks for our forefathers but also for what we have today.
I also don't see anything wrong with including dishes that were not at the original party even if you want to lean toward the first celebration. So go ahead, have venison AND greenbean casserole if you want. The fact that you are even aware that the pilgrims did things a little differently puts you light years ahead of many people. Regardless, this topic will make great conversation at the table. If your guests are supportive, maybe next year you can go all out and recreate a pilgirm meal.
I strongly suggest that you watch the movie "What's Cooking", (directed by Garunda Chadha, who also directed Bend it Like Bekham). It shows four ethnic families preparing a Thanksgiving meal, each in their own way, each with all of the requisite family mishagas. The film does a great job of celebrating family traditions, and should help you with your quandry.