Thursday, November 30, 2023

What is Yuletide?

Yule was typically celebrated for three days from the first night of the Winter Solstice, December 21 or 22, to December 24 or December 25.

Germanic & Northern European peoples observed Yule or Yuletide, a Winter Solstice festival connected with the worship of the Norse god Odin & the celebration of Odin’s Wild Hunt, where Odin & his goddess Frigg rode through swathes of winter light in the night sky to chase damned souls to the underworld. People feared that if they witnessed or in any way mocked the hunt, they too could be taken into the underworld.

Starting in December, some peoples celebrated Yule for a whole month, often up to three. People slaughtered animals, cooking the meat to enjoy with wine & ale. But, purposely, they saved the blood. Blood was used ritually to decorate the people & the statues of their gods & goddesses.


The solstice brought the darkest & longest night of the year. Celebrations were lit by firelight from masses of candles, bonfires, & the burning of a large log called the Yule Log, which was sprinkled with salt & oil so that when it burned down the ashes could be scattered around homes to ward off evil spirits.


Other customs carried to the modern era included decorating homes with trees covered in candles, metal ornaments, & fruit, & caroling or wassailing, where wandering groups of singers were rewarded with warm mugs of cider or ale.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Druids & Mistletoe - The Winter Solstice


Druids formed the professional class in ancient Celtic society. They performed the functions of modern day priests, teachers, poets, ambassadors, astronomers, genealogists, philosophers, musicians, theologians, scientists, & judges. Druids led public rituals often held within fenced groves of sacred trees.  


The word "Druidae" is of Celtic origin. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, 23/24-79 A.D.) believed it to be a cognate with the Greek work "drus," meaning "an oak." "Dru-wid" combines the word roots "oak" & "knowledge" ("wid" means "to know" or "to see" - as in the Sanskrit "vid"). The oak (together with the rowan & hazel) was an important sacred tree to the Druids. In the Celtic social system, Druid was a title given to learned men & women possessing "oak knowledge" (or "oak wisdom").

Some scholars have argued that Druids originally belonged to a pre-Celtic ('non-Aryan') population in Britain & Ireland (from where they spread to Gaul), noting that there is no trace of Druidism among Celts elsewhere - in Cisalpine Italy, Spain, or Galatia (modern Turkey). Others, however, believe that Druids were an indigenous Celtic intelligentsia to be found among all Celtic peoples, but were known by other names.

The Winter Solstice is the time of the death of the old sun & the birth of the dark-half of the year.   The Winter Solstice was called "Alban Arthuan," Welch for "Light of Winter" by the Druids.  This was a time of dread for the ancient peoples, as they saw the days getting shorter & shorter. A great ritual was needed to revert the course of the sun. 


This time for the ritual may have been calculated by the great circles of stone & burial grounds which are aligned to the Winter Solstice, such as Stonehenge in England & Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland.   John Aubrey, writing in the 17C first thought it a "probability" that stone circles, such as Stonehenge, "were Temples of the Druids" titling his text on stone circles the "Templa Druidum."   This idea was picked up by William Stukeley, in the early 18C, who subtitled his 1st book, Stonehenge, published in 1740, "a Temple Restored to the British Druids, and his 2nd publication on Avebury, published in 1743, "a Temple of the British Druids."   Although later, in the 19C, Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913) dated Stonehenge to a period much earlier than the time of the Druids (that is, to about 3000 B.C., whereas the Druids don't appear in the historical record until 1800 years later), nonetheless the view was maintained by some, that Druids were pre-Celtic inhabitants of Britain & that the religious beliefs & practices for which Stonehenge was built are ancestral to those of the laterday Celtic Druids.  And the speculation continues.


Sure enough, the next day after the great Druid Winter Solstice celebration, the Sun began to move higher into the sky, showing that it had been reborn.  For the Druids, the Winter Solstice is the end of month of the Elder Tree & the start of the month of the Birch.  This is the time of the Serpent Days or transformation.  The Elder & Birch stand at the entrance to Annwn or Celtic underworld where all life was formed. As in several other Druid myths, they guard the entrance to the underworld.  At this time, the Sun God journeys through the underworld to learn the secrets of death & life and to bring out those souls to be reincarnated. 


Mistletoe has a compelling Druid history. According to ancient Druid tradition, Mistletoe was the most sacred of all plants. Mistletoe was used by Druid priests in a ceremony which was held 5 days after the New Moon following Winter Solstice. The Druid priests would cut Mistletoe from a holy Oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground.  The priest then divided the branches into sprigs & dispersed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection.  Druids believed Mistletoe had miraculous properties that could cure illnesses, antidote poisons, ensure fertility, & protect against evil witchcraft. It was also a sign of peace & goodwill. When warring tribes came across Mistletoe, a temporary truce would be observed until the next day. 


Tradition relates that on the Winter Solstice, Druids would gather by the oldest mistletoe-clad oak. The Chief Druid would make his way to the mistletoe to be cut whilst below, other Druids would hold open a sheet to catch it, making sure none of it touched the ground.  With his golden sickle the Chief Druid would remove the mistletoe to be caught below.  It is said that the early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe because of its association with Druids.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Roman Midwinter Festival Saturnalia - The Winter Solstice

"How did the Romans celebrate ‘Christmas’?

"It is today associated with decorations, gift giving and indulgence. But how did the Romans celebrate during the festive season? English historian Dr Carey Fleiner, a senior lecturer in classical and medieval history at the University of Winchester, looks back at Saturnalia, the Roman mid-winter ‘festival of misrule’

"Q: What was Saturnalia, and how was it celebrated?


"A: It was the Romans’ mid-winter knees up!

"It was a topsy-turvy holiday of feasting, drinking, singing in the street naked, clapping hands, gambling in public and making noise.

"A character in Macrobius’s Saturnalia [an encyclopedic celebration of Roman culture written in the early fifth century] quotes from an unnamed priest of the god Saturn that, according to the god himself, during the Saturnalia “all things that are serious are barred”.  So while it was a holy day, it was also very much a festive day as well.

"The ordinarily rigid and conservative social restrictions of the Romans changed – for example, masters served their slaves during a feast and adults would serve children, and slaves were allowed to gamble.

Dice players in a wall painting from Pompeii

"And the aristocracy, who usually wore conservative clothes, dressed in brightly coloured fabrics such as red, purple and gold. This outfit was called the ‘synthesis’, which meant ‘to be put together’. They would ‘put together’ whatever clothes they wanted.

"People would also wear a cap of freedom – the pilleum – which was usually worn by slaves who had been awarded their freedom, to symbolise that they were ‘free’ during the Saturnalia.

"People would feast in their homes, but the historian Livy notes that by 217 BC there would also be a huge public feast at the oldest temple in Rome, the Temple of Saturn. Macrobius confirms this, and says that the rowdy participants would spill out onto the street, with the participants shouting, “Io Saturnalia!” the way we might greet people with ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy New Year!’

"A small statue of Saturn might be present at such feasts, as if Saturn himself were there. The statue of Saturn in the temple itself spent most of the year with its feet bound in woolen strips. On the feast day, these binds of wool wrapped around his feet were loosened – symbolising that the Romans were ‘cutting loose’ during the Saturnalia.

"People were permitted to gamble in public and bob for corks in ice water. The author Aulus Gellius noted that, as a student, he and his friends would play trivia games. Chariot racing was also an important component of the Saturnalia and the associated sun-god festivities around that time – by the late fourth century AD there might be up to 36 races a day.

"We say that during Christmas today the whole world shuts down – the same thing happened during the Saturnalia. There were sometimes plots to overthrow the government, because people were distracted – the famous conspirator Cataline had planned to murder the Senate and set the city on fire during the holiday, but his plan was uncovered and stopped by Cicero in 63 BC.

"Saturnalia was described by first-century AD poet Gaius Valerius Catullus as “the best of times”. It was certainly the most popular holiday in the Roman calendar.

"Q: Where does Saturnalia originate?

"It was the result of the merging of three winter festivals over the centuries. These included the day of Saturn – the god of seeds and sowing – which was the Saturnalia itself. The dates for the Saturnalia shifted a bit over time, but it was originally held on 17 December.

"Later, the 17th was given over to the Opalia, a feast day dedicated to Saturn’s wife – who was also his sister. She was the goddess of abundance and the fruits of the earth.

"Because they were associated with heaven (Saturn) and Earth (Opalia), their holidays ended up combined, according again to Macrobius. And the third was a feast day celebrating the shortest day, called the bruma by the Romans. The Brumalia coincided with the solstice, on 21 or 22 December.

"The three were merged, and became a seven-day jolly running from 17–23 December. But the emperor Augustus [who ruled from 27 BC–AD 14] shortened it to a three-day holiday, as it was causing chaos in terms of the working day.

"Later, Caligula [ruled AD 37–41 ] extended it to a five-day holiday, and by the time of Macrobius [early fifth century] it had extended to almost two weeks.

'As with so many Roman traditions, the origins of the Saturnalia are lost to the mists of time. The writer Columella notes in his book about agriculture [De Re Rustica, published in the early first century AD] that the Saturnalia came at the end of the agrarian year.

"The festivities fell on the winter solstice, and helped to make up for the monotony of the lull between the end of the harvest and the beginning of the spring.


"Q: Were gift-giving and decorations part of Saturnalia?

"A: Saturnalia was more about a change in attitudes than presents. But a couple of gifts that were given were white candles, named cerei, and clay faces named sigillariae. The candles signified the increase of light after the solstice, while the sigillariae were little ornaments people exchanged.

"These were sometimes hung in greenery as a form of decoration, and people would bring in holly and berries to honour Saturn.


"Q: Was Saturnalia welcomed by everyone?

"A: Not among the Romans!

"Seneca [who died in AD 62] complained that the mob went out of control “in pleasantries”, and Pliny the Younger wrote in one of his letters that he holed up in his study while the rest of the household celebrated.

"As might be expected, the early Christian authorities objected to the festivities as well.

"It wasn’t until the late fourth century that the church fathers could agree on the date of Christ’s birth – unlike the pagan Romans, Christians tended to give no importance to anyone’s birthday. The big day in the Christian religious calendar was Easter.

"Nevertheless, eventually the church settled on 25 December as the date of Christ’s nativity. For the Christians, it was a holy day, not a holiday, and they wanted the period to be sombre and distinguished from the pagan Saturnalia traditions such as gambling, drinking, and of course, most of all, worshipping a pagan god!

"But their attempts to ban Saturnalia were not successful, as it was so popular. As late as the eighth century, church authorities complained that even people in Rome were still celebrating the old pagan customs associated with the Saturnalia and other winter holidays."

Tuesday 17th December 2013  BBC History Magazine by Emma McFarnon

Monday, November 27, 2023

Winter Solstice - 3200 BC Prehistoric Passages - Tombs or Monuments

Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland

Newgrange is a prehistoric structure in County Meath, Ireland.  It was built during the Neolithic period around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge & the Egyptian pyramids.  According to carbon-14 dates, it is about 500 years older than the current form of Stonehenge, and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, as well as predating the Mycenaean culture of ancient Greece.  The site consists of a large circular mound with a stone passageway & interior chambers. The mound has a retaining wall at the front & is ringed by engraved kerbstones. 

Entrance to Newgrange in Ireland in  1905, when the mound had become largely overgrown.

Newgrange contains various examples of abstract Neolithic rock art carved onto it. These carvings fit into 10 categories, 5 of which are curvilinear (circles, spirals, arcs, serpentiniforms & dot-in-circles) and the other 5 of which are rectilinear (chevrons, lozenges, radials, parallel lines & offsets). There is no agreement among archaeologist & historians about what the site was used for, but it has been speculated that it had religious significance – it is aligned with the rising sun & its light floods the chamber on the winter solstice.

Entrance to Newgate in Ireland today

A passage grave or tomb or monument consists of a narrow passage made of large stones & one or multiple burial? chambers covered in earth or stone. The building of passage tombs usually dates from the Neolithic Age.  Those with more than one chamber may have multiple sub-chambers leading off from a main chamber.  One common layout, the cruciform passage grave, is cross-shaped.  Not all passage graves have been found to contain evidence of human remains. One such example is Maeshowe in Scotland.  Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered passage monument or grave situated on Mainland, Orkney, Scotland.  It was probably built around 2800 BCE.  Megalithic art has been identified carved into the stones at some sites. The passage itself, in a number of notable instances, is aligned in such a way that the sun shines into the passage at a significant point in the year, for example at the winter solstice.

Maeshowe in Orkney, Scotland

Passage tombs or monuments are distributed extensively in lands along the Atlantic seaboard of Europe. They are found in Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, northern Germany, & the Drenthe area of the Netherlands. They are also found in Iberia, some parts of the Mediterranean, & along the northern coast of Africa. In Ireland & Britain, passage tombs or monuments are often found in large clusters. Many later passage tombs were constructed at the tops of hills or mountains, perhaps because their builders intended them to be seen from a great distance.

Maeshowe Entrance today

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th?


Actually, the Winter Solstice is an astronomical phenomenon marking "the shortest day" & "the longest night" of the year. Winter solstice occurs for the Northern Hemisphere in mid-December & for the Southern Hemisphere in mid- June.  As the Earth orbits around the Sun, the same hemisphere that faced away from the Sun, experiencing winter, will, in half a year, face towards the Sun & experience summer.  A hemisphere's winter solstice occurs when the sun's daily maximum elevation in the sky is the lowest.  The Winter Solstice is also called "Midwinter." The earliest sunset & latest sunrise dates differ from winter solstice, however, & these depend on latitude, due to the variation in the solar day throughout the year caused by the Earth's elliptical orbit.

Stonehenge in England

The solstice itself was probably a cultural event as early as neolithic times, but because there are no written records, historians simply have to guess at that.  Historians are convinced that astronomical events, which during ancient times controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops & metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies & traditions have arisen. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic & Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in Britain & Newgrange in Ireland.

Newgrange in Ireland

The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) & the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). At Stonehenge, the Great Trilithon was erected outwards from the center of the monument, with its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun.

Newgrange in Ireland

The winter solstice may have been important because the people in these early communities were not certain of living through the winter, & had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as "the famine months." In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered, so they would not have to be fed during the winter.  It was one of the only times of year, when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine & beer made during the year was finally fermented & ready for drinking at this time. 

Since the Winter Solstice is seen as the reversal of the Sun's ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common &, in cultures using winter solstice based cyclic calendars, the year as reborn has been celebrated with regard to life-death-rebirth deities or new beginnings. Before the scientific revolution, many forms of observances, astronomical, symbolic or ritualistic, had evolved according to the beliefs of various cultures, many of which are still practiced today.

When Christian sovereigns extended their rule into pagan lands & converted the inhabitants to Christianity, they eased the cultural transition to a new religion by allowing the people to keep most of their major holidays, which they renamed, changed slightly, & sanctified as Christian holidays. When Christianity developed in the ancient Roman world, the winter solstice in that culture was already marked around 25th December.  

Though he was called “King,” Herod I (or Herod the Great, as he liked to be called) was really a Roman governor over Israel and Judah.

Early Christians celebrated the birth of the Savior for the first 3 1/2 centuries on March 25.  The date of Christ's birth is nowhere mentioned in the Gospels or by tradition.  The Bible, astrology, & a tax collection census offer a few clues.  The gospel of Matthew states that Jesus was born "in the days of king Herod." The book of Josephus notes that Herod,  King of Judea, died after ruling 34 years de facto, 37 years de jure.  Josephus states that an eclipse of the moon occurred not long before Herod's death.  A eclipse occurred from 12 to 13 March, A.U.C. 750, so that Herod must have died before the Passover of that year which fell on 12 April. As Herod killed the children up to 2 years old, in order to destroy the new born King of the Jews, Jesus may have been born about 2 years before Herod's death. The tax enrollment under Cyrinus mentioned by St. Luke in connection with the nativity of Jesus Christ, and the remarkable astronomical conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, & Saturn in Pisces, occurred in the spring of A.U.C. 748. (A.U.C. stands for Ab Urbe Condita, meaning "from the foundation of Rome."  The Roman A.U.C. calendar was enforced under the penalty of death throughout the Roman Empire during that time.

Pope St. Julius 1 (337-352)

The adoption of the date of December 25 by Pope St. Julius 1 (337-352) was primarily a means by which the early Church could insert itself into many of the popular mid-winter festivals which already were observed by "the pagans" - particularly the celebration of the Roman sun god, Mithras; since 274, under the emperor Aurelian.   Rome had celebrated the feast of the "Invincible Sun", Natalis Invicti Solis, on December 25.   Other festivals that were appropriated included the Roman Saturnalia celebrations (which changed dates, originally December 17-19, later December 17-23, & finally December 1-23).  During this festival, work ceased, gifts were exchanged, & slaves ate with their masters.  The festivals of northern Europe, particularly Yule, & also other customs such as yule logs, holly, ivy, mistletoe, candles, evergreens, became part of the Christmas celebration.

Since there was only a loose Christian authority limited by distance & rival power centers at the time, it took centuries before the tradition was  adopted geographically: 
- Eastern churches began to celebrate Christmas after 375 CE. 
- Ireland started in the 5C
- The church in Jerusalem started in the 7C
- Austria, England & Switzerland in the 8C
- Slavic lands in the 9C & 10C 


Saturday, November 25, 2023

History of the Turkey for Thanksgiving & Christmas Celebrations

 

An engraving from Audubon's painting of a hen with her poults, or chicks, circa 1827–30.

A Short History of the Turkey

Centuries before Christopher Columbus reached the New World, the Aztecs had domesticated a wild game bird that we call the turkey, but they called huexolotl. The turkey was so important to the Aztecs as a source of food that the Indians regarded the bird as a god. There were two religious festivals a year in the turkey's honor.

When the Spanish arrived in the earliest years of the sixteenth century, they were at a loss what to name the strange bird ...& settled on calling it "a kind of a peacock with great hanging chins." The bird's reputation for delicious, fine-textured flesh & distinguished plumage, as well as a comical appearance, was soon talked about in the court circles of Madrid & Seville. Who sent the first birds back to Spain is unclear. Most likely, it was Columbus after his fourth transatlantic visit in 1502, when he visited Cape Honduras. 

Some historians say Hernando Cortes, the swashbuckling Spanish conquistador, deserves the credit. But Cortes began his Mexican adventures in 1519, eight years after King Ferdinand sent out instructions that every Spanish ship returning from the New World should bring back ten turkeys, "half males, & the other half females ...because I desire that there be bred here some cocks & hens of those which you have there & were brought from Tierra Firme."

There are two wild species of turkey, members of the pheasant family that evolved in the New World about eleven million years ago. The Ocellated turkey—Agriocharis ocellata—is native to the jungles of the Yucatan & Guatemala. The other, more familiar species is the granddaddy of all present-day gobblers—Meleagris gallopova—& ranged from southeastern Canada to Mexico. Like pheasant & grouse, wild turkeys can burst into a short flight that clocks up to 55 miles per hour. On the ground they are no slouches either, running at up to 30 miles per hour. But turkeys are bred nowadays for brawn, not speed. 

Like the Aztecs to the south, the North American Indian tribes regarded the turkey as a powerful spiritual symbol. They prized its breast feathers as an alternative to goose down for warm winter cloaks. Southwestern tribes, believing the turkey to be the guide that ushered the dead into the next world, buried their loved ones in turkey-feather robes. 

But with the advent of the Europeans, the turkey's prospects turned. They were still revered—but now as an easily obtained meal. Early reports talk of hunters shooting 100 birds in a day—day after day...

The spread of the delectable turkey around Europe quickly followed its introduction into Spain. England gawked at its first turkey in the 1520s—introduced, it is said, by William Strickland of East Yorkshire after a visit to the New World with John Cabot. In later life, Strickland's perspicacity appears to have been honored with the award of a grant of arms—a family crest—that sported a heraldic "turkey-bird in his pride proper." 

As elsewhere in Europe, the bird proved a great hit in England. Hitherto, the high-end feathered diet of English aristocrats had included such tough & chewy morsels as cormorants, swans, cranes, herons, storks, & another, now critically endangered bird known as the Great Bustard...

According to Thomas Tusser's 1570 Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, turkey meat was now part & parcel of England's Christmas celebrations, at least for the well off. Such was the demand, that farmers from Norfolk, eighty or more miles distant, would drive their thousand-strong turkey flocks to market in London on foot, reportedly creating the first traffic jams on the streets of the English capital...

By 1541 eating turkey was so popular that when Thomas Cranmer, the Church of England's top archbishop, introduced a sumptuary law to restrict the consumption of meat dishes by his underlings, turkey was on the hit list. He said "of the greater fishes or fowles, there should be but one in a dish, as crane, swan, turkeycocke, haddocke, pyke, tench."

In Italy, the Venetian senate passed similar laws to curtail excessive feasting, & turkey—this time along with pigeon—was outlawed. But the Venetians did not take kindly to being told what not to eat & apparently continued to evade the law by carving the birds in secret & making enormous pies with the meat. One similar, monster English pie made in the northern cathedral city of Durham was touted as having used up 100 turkeys in the making.

The turkey's European invasion was virtually complete by 1560. The novelty of the birds made them status symbols for the rich & famous. With European nobility fond of turning their estates into zoological extravaganzas, all manner of exotic birds & beasts were sent home from the New World, & what more intriguing species to join the now passé Indian peacock than a strutting, gobbling turkey-cock? Particularly if you had not seen one before...

Put there were questions about what to call it. Once the bird began to strut its stuff across the European continent, every different language settled on a different name. The result was a muddle. Adding to the confusion was that people mistook the word for "turkey" as referring to the equally odd-looking guinea-fowl that were being imported from West Africa about the same period. The French called the turkey coq d'Inde, meaning rooster of India. This was shortened to dinde—the modern French word for turkey—but as we know, it did not come from India.

Columbus had sown the seeds of geographic confusion with his assessment that the New World was India. Nevertheless, the name-that-bird quest did not end there. In Arabic, the turkey was called the Ethiopian bird; to the Lebanese—the Abyssinian cock; the Portuguese called it the Peru bird, though there never was a turkey in that country either; in Greek it went by the name gallopoula, or French girl. Presumably, the Greeks got their first turkeys from the French. But it gets curiouser. In Malay, a turkey is ayam belanda, or Dutch chicken, though the Dutch & the Germans call it a Calicut chicken, after a southwest Indian seaport; & to cap it all, the Turks call the bird hindi...

Two hundred years later, when the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus tried to classify the turkey & its relatives in the natural scheme of things, he did not get it right either. He cobbled together the Latin name Meleagris gallopova. Well, meleagris is a guinea fowl, gallus is a chicken, & pova is a peacock—a mishmash if ever there was one. All in all, the turkey had Linnaeus stumped.

But how did the English-speaking world make the mistake of calling a North American bird a turkey when everyone else was heading off in the direction of India, Peru, or Ethiopia? The first explanation was that Columbus called it "turkey" after the noise it makes: tuka, tuka. Similarly, North American Indians supposedly called it turkey after the sound they thought it made—firkee—though it seems a stretch from firkee to gobble-gobble. It has also been suggested that Luis de Torres, a doctor who sailed with Columbus, called the bird tukki, which in Hebrew means "big bird."

Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that English traders who specialized in trading with the Ottoman Empire, which included Turkey, were called Turkey merchants, & they had tasted roast turkey in Spain or Portugal on their way to & from the eastern Mediterranean. With an eye to a profit, the traders brought birds back to England, augmenting those introduced by Strickland. But the name turkey stuck.

When the Pilgrims disembarked from the Mayflower in 1620, along with livestock that reportedly included some domesticated turkeys, it didn't take them long to realize that the wheel had turned full circle, & the native birds they admired & hunted were distant cousins of their own domestic turkeys.

Of all the hallowed stories of the Pilgrim fathers, the most venerable is that of their Thanksgiving dinner—particularly the turkey...But sad to say there is no real evidence that turkey was on the menu that day.

Colonist Edward Winslow wrote:  Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, & amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained & feasted, & they went out & killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation & bestowed on our Governour, & upon the Captaine & others.

No mention of turkeys, except in an ambiguous account written years later by the governor, William Bradford, who makes no specific connection between the turkey & the 1621 festivities. He wrote: They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, & to fitte up their houses & dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, & had all things in good plenty; ffor as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no want. & now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c.

Bradford had "sent four men fowling" to find food, but whether they returned with turkey to grace their table is not clear. It hardly matters. The tradition is still revered, & turkey is still served. Only nowadays, there is little doubt about what it is we are eating.

By Andrew Gardner,  Christmas 2005 edition of the Colonial Williamsburg Journal.   https://www.slaveryandremembrance.org/almanack/life/christmas/din_turkey.cfm

Friday, November 24, 2023

21C Blessing the Fox Hunt on Thanksgiving


I am pretty certain that I live in a place out of time.  As long as I can remember, at our church in Northern Maryland, Thanksgiving morning begins with communion followed by a Blessing of the Hunt. As geese congregate to fly overhead in November, fox hunting officially season begins in these parts. Every year on Thanksgiving Morning, excited riders, onlookers, horses, & hounds gather at Saint James Episcopal church in Monkton Maryland. For many families, it has become a tradition that starts their Thanksgiving holiday. Riders appear & come dressed in formal hunters attire, atop their beautiful horses. Formal hunters attire is the classic & signature red hunting jackets called "Pinks," white riding pants, black leather riding boots, & hunt caps. 

The riders gather early in the morning, & before the hounds are released to follow the fox scent, they all receive a blessing from the local Episcopal Priest while the scores of onlookers watch from the sidelines. The tradition & its blessing go way back to very early medieval times when hunters believed that Saint Hubert of Liege, the patron saint of hunters, would protect them & their hounds & keep them safe during the hunt.

St James Episcopal Church, Monkton, Maryland. 2014

At a Blessing I attended a few years ago, the rector began, "In less than an hour we will hear hoof beats, and the crying of hounds. As the final echoes of the Lord's Prayer and an Anglican blessing fade from this hilltop into the silence of the trees, the horse and riders will pick up speed, seek a scent, and pass quickly out of our sight."

Informal fox hunts with private packs of dogs were popular in Maryland throughout colonial times, when rural neighbors applauded fox hunting as a husbandry necessity -foxes were destroying livestock. Early Marylanders did not see fox hunting as a blood-sport of the privileged. After the Revolution, the first few formal foxhunting clubs were organized near the towns of Baltimore, Washington, & Annapolis. Contemporary newspaper accounts show that the Baltimore Fox Hunting Club was active near the Chesapeake Bay as early as 1793.

The rector continued, "Into the beauty of God's creation they will move. We will hear them even when we cease to see the red of their jackets or the dark flanks of the very last horse. Even when they are gone from our hearing, we will remember the sound of our voices raised in song and prayer within these walls. And those who go a hunting and those that can't tell a stirrup from a saddle will leave this church today connected through a common cup, one bread broken for us all, and blessings from ancient times that are carried, still, by stories like voices on the wind."


Our local Elkridge Fox Hunting Club was incorporated on March 6, 1878, and is believed to be a descendant of the 18th-century Baltimore Fox Hunting Club. As downtown Baltimore grew, it combined with the more rural Harford Hunt club. Now the Elkridge-Harford Hunt roams over about 120 square miles of rolling farmland, with wooded areas & pastures. It has over 60 hounds in its kennels. Neighborhood obstacles are post-and-rail fences, fallen trees, cold streams,  & board fences.

The rector concluded, "In less than an hour we will hear hoof beats, and the crying of hounds. God's blessing will roll across the landscape, seeking those who would enter a kingdom raised by more than human hands. All we have to do to enter is to be willing to love, willing to risk, willing to ride out and meet God where He dwells. Let us all prepare our hearts for the blessing of the hunt, the search for God. For everyone that draws breath is on this life-long journey. Ride well, and may the peace of God be with you."

1787 Ben Franklin Likes The Turkey more than The Bald Eagle

1615 Turkey Tapestry from India

 About the turkey lots of us ate for Thanksgiving, Ben Franklin wrote to his daughter that in comparison to the bald eagle, the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America...He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.” So, although Benjamin Franklin defended the honor of the turkey against the bald eagle, he did not actually propose it become one of America’s most important symbols.

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perch’d on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; & when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, & is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate & young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him & takes it from him. With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor & often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly & drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave & honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country, tho’ exactly fit for that Order of Knights which the French call Chevaliers d’Industrie. I am on this account not displeas’d that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, & withal a true original Native of America. Eagles have been found in all Countries, but the Turkey was peculiar to ours, the first of the Species seen in Europe being brought to France by the Jesuits from Canada, & serv’d up at the Wedding Table of Charles the ninth. He is besides, tho’ a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, & would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.“

See: “From Benjamin Franklin to Sarah Bache, 26 January 1784,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-41-02-0327. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 41, September 16, 1783, through February 29, 1784, ed. Ellen R. Cohn. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014, pp. 503–511.]

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Early American Thanksgivings - 1860s "Mother of Thanksgiving" gets Lincoln to Proclaim the National Holiday


History.com By Barbara Maranzani Nov 21, 2019

The author of the children's poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb" was persistent in arguing that establishing the national November holiday could help heal wounds from the Civil War.

Secretary of State William Seward wrote it & Abraham Lincoln issued it, but much of the credit for the Thanksgiving Proclamation should probably go to a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale. 

A prominent writer & editor, Hale had written the children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” originally known as “Mary’s Lamb,” in 1830 & helped found the American Ladies Magazine, which she used a platform to promote women’s issues. In 1837, she was offered the editorship of Godey’s Lady Book, where she would remain for more than 40 years, shepherding the magazine to a circulation of more than 150,000 by the eve of the Civil War & turning it into one of the most influential periodicals in the country. 

In addition to her publishing work, Hale was a committed advocate for women’s education (including the creation of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York), & raised funds to construct Massachusetts’s Bunker Hill Monument & save George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

The New Hampshire-born Hale had grown up regularly celebrating an annual Thanksgiving holiday, & in 1827 published a novel, Northwood: A Tale of New England, that included an entire chapter about the fall tradition, already popular in parts of the nation. While at Godey’s, Hale often wrote editorials & articles about the holiday & she lobbied state & federal officials to pass legislation creating a fixed, national day of thanks on the last Thursday of November. She believed that such a unifying measure could help ease growing tensions  &  divisions between the northern  &  southern parts of the country. Her efforts paid off: By 1854, more than 30 states & U.S. territories had a Thanksgiving celebration on the books, but Hale’s vision of a national holiday remained unfulfilled.

The concept of a national Thanksgiving did not originate with Hale, & in fact the idea had been around since the earliest days of the republic. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress issued proclamations declaring several days of thanks, in honor of military victories. 

In 1789, a newly inaugurated George Washington called for a national day of thanks to celebrate both the end of the war & the recent ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Both John Adams  &  James Madison issued similar proclamations of their own, though fellow Founding Father Thomas Jefferson felt the religious connotations surrounding the event were out of place in a nation founded on the separation of church & state, & no formal declarations were issued after 1815.

The outbreak of war in April 1861 did little to stop Sarah Josepha Hale’s efforts to create such a holiday, however. She continued to write editorials on the subject, urging Americans to “put aside sectional feelings & local incidents” & rally around the unifying cause of Thanksgiving. And the holiday continued, despite hostilities, in both the Union & the Confederacy. 

In 1861 & 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis issued Thanksgiving Day proclamations following Southern victories. Abraham Lincoln himself called for a day of thanks in April 1862, following Union victories at Fort Donelson, Fort Henry & at Shiloh, & again in the summer of 1863 after the Battle of Gettysburg.

Shortly after Lincoln’s summer proclamation, Hale wrote to both the president & Secretary of State William Seward, once again urging them to declare a national Thanksgiving, stating that only the chief executive had the power to make the holiday, “permanently, an American custom & institution.” 

Whether Lincoln was already predisposed to issue such a proclamation before receiving Hale’s letter of September 28 remains unclear. What is certain is that within a week, Seward had drafted Lincoln’s official proclamation fixing the national observation of Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November, a move the 2 men hoped would help “heal the wounds of the nation.”

After more than 3 decades of lobbying, Sarah Josepha Hale (& the United States) had a national holiday.

1793 Samuel Lane (1718-1806) Thankful in 18C New Hampshire


 Samuel Lane's Home in Stratham, New Hampshire.

One of my favorite looks at Thanksgiving in Early America was written on Thursday, November 21, 1793 by 75 year old Samuel Lane  (1718-1806) of Stratham, New Hampshire.

"As I was musing on my Bed being awake as Usual before Daylight;  recollecting the Many Mercies and good things I enjoy for which I ought to be thankful this Day;

The Life & health of myself and family, and also of so many of my Children,  grand Children and great grandchildren...

for my Bible and Many other good and Useful Books,  Civil and Religious Priviledges...

for my Land,  House and Barn and other Buildings,  & that they are preserv'd from fire & other accidents.

for my wearing Clothes to keep me warm,  my Bed & Bedding to rest upon.

for my Cattle,  Sheep & Swine & other Creatures,  for my support.

for my Corn, Wheat,  Rye Grass and Hay;  Wool,  flax,  Syder,  Apples,  Pumpkins,  Potatoes,  cabages,  tirnips, Carrots,  Beets,  peaches and other fruit.

For my Clock and Watch to measure my passing time by Day and by Night.

Wood,  Water,  Butter,  Cheese,  Milk,  Pork,  Beefe,  & fish, &c.

for Tea,  Sugar,  Rum,  Wine,  Gin,  Molasses,  peper,  Spice &  Money for to bye other Necessaries and to pay my Debts and Taxes &c.

for my lether,  Lamp oyl &  Candles,  Husbandry Utensils, & other tools of every sort...

Bless the Lord O my Soul and all that is within me Bless his holy Name..."

When Samuel Lane was born on October 6, 1718, in Hampton, New Hampshire, his father Joshua, a shoemaker, was 22 & his mother, Bathsheba Robie, was 22. Samuel expanded his childhood training to become a shoemaker into a thriving shoemaking business & other enterprises employing others. Samuel died on December 29, 1806, in Stratham, New Hampshire, at age 88, & was buried there.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

1801 Tho Jefferson’s Complicated Relationship with Thanksgiving

 
Thomas Jefferson’s Complicated Relationship with Thanksgiving 
The third president declined to participate in the tradition.

"Since the United States became a nation, people have come together to count their blessings, feast on bountiful foods & give thanks with family & friends...But there’s one president who refused to endorse the tradition: Thomas Jefferson.

"Ever since Jefferson first declined to mark the day in 1801, rumors have swirled that the 3rd president despised the event. But it was more complicated than that. For Jefferson, supporting Thanksgiving meant supporting state-sponsored religion, & it was his aversion to mixing church & state that earned him a reputation as America’s only anti-Thanksgiving president.

"In Jefferson’s time, Thanksgiving as a national holiday didn’t exist at all. The formal observance of Thanksgiving Day only began in 1863, when Lincoln proclaimed the holiday in response to the horrors of the Civil War. By then, the tradition of giving thanks as a nation had been in place since 1777, when Congress declared a national day of thanksgiving after America’s victory at the Battle of Saratoga. Afterward, presidents would proclaim periodic days of fasting, prayer & expressing gratitude.

"But not Jefferson. When he became president, he stopped declaring the holidays that George Washington & John Adams had so enthusiastically supported—and in 1802, he flirted with telling the nation why.

"Shortly after his inauguration, a Baptist group in Connecticut wrote a letter to Jefferson congratulating him on his election & expressing concern about the state’s constitution, which didn’t specifically provide for religious liberty. Baptists had long beenpersecuted in the colonies due to their emotional religious ceremonies, their decision to baptize adults instead of children, & their belief in the separation of church & state. The Baptist Association of Danbury wanted to be sure that they’d be protected under Jefferson’s presidency.

"Jefferson saw this as an opportunity to explain his views on state-sponsored religion. “I have long wished to find [an occasion to say] why I do not proclaim fastings & thanksgivings, as my predecessors did,” Jefferson wrote to his attorney general & friend, Levi Lincoln.

"At the time, Jefferson’s political enemies, the Federalists, loved to use his stance on the separation of church & state as a political cudgel, convincing Americans that he was an atheist who was making America less godly. Perhaps his response to the Baptists, which would be widely read, could make his views clearer & protect him against those slurs.

"In an early draft of the letter, Jefferson faced the Federalist accusations head-on, explaining that he considered declaring fasts or days of thanksgiving to be expressions of religion & that he opposed them because they were remnants of Britain’s reign over the American colonies.

"But Levi Lincoln warned him that his words might be construed as a criticism of New England, where feast of thanksgiving had become a beloved tradition. After careful consideration, Jefferson decided to drop the reference from his letter. His public reply to the Danbury Baptists didn’t include a comment on public celebrations of thanksgiving. Rather, Jefferson told them he believed in “a wall of separation between Church & State.”

"Jefferson paid the political price for that edit. “Withholding from the public the rationale for his policy on thanksgivings & fasts did not solve Jefferson’s problem, ”writes historian James Hutson. Since the public didn’t know the reasoning behind his lack of thanksgiving proclamations, says Hutson, he remained vulnerable to Federalist attacks that accused him of godlessness.

"In fact, Jefferson had once declared a Thanksgiving of his own: In 1779, while serving as governor of Virginia, he declared a day of Thanksgiving & Prayer. In 1808, he explained why he had been willing to do so as governor, but not president. Jefferson believed he could not endorse such a holiday without running afoul of the First Amendment—and furthermore, he considered days of thanksgiving the responsibility of the states, not the federal government.

"For Jefferson, it was more important to maintain a strict separation of church & state than to cave in to the public’s love of giving thanks. But since he never explained himself in public, American citizens never got the chance to appreciate his principled stance on the holiday. Jefferson’s public silence on Thanksgiving spun out into a centuries-long rumor that he was a Turkey Day grinch—especially when his successor, James Madison, resuscitated the tradition in 1815."

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

1789 Fuss about Geo Washington's National Day of Thanksgiving


The First Presidential National Day of Thanksgiving

In Congress, Elias Boudinot introduced a resolution to create a joint committee to "wait on the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people a day of public prayer & thanksgiving,"

The resolution was opposed by Anti-Federalists, who opposed increased power of the central government. Chief among the opposition were Aedanus Burke, & Thomas Tudor Tucker. 

Burke was of the opinion that the holiday was too "European." He "did not like this mimicking of European customs, where they made a mere mockery of thanksgivings." Burke was referencing the fact that at thanksgivings, both sides of a war often sang Te Deum, a hymn of praise. He was objecting that both the winners & losers in a war gave thanksgiving. Tucker however, felt that the federal government did not have the power to propose a day of thanksgiving. He was of the opinion that "If a day of thanksgiving must take place, let it be done by the authority of the States." 

Tucker also worried about the separation of church & state, as in his opinion, proclaiming a day of thanksgiving was a religious matter.

In the end, the resolution passed the House & the Senate, & a committee of Elias Boudinot, Roger Sherman, Peter Silvester, William Samuel Johnson, & Ralph Izard delivered the message to Washington on or before September 28, 1789. President Washington noted that "both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested [him] 'to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving & prayer.'" 

It was formally declared on November 26 to "be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great & glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be." President George Washington made this proclamation on October 3, 1789 in New York City.

On the day of thanksgiving, Washington attended services at St. Paul's Chapel in New York City, & donated beer & food to imprisoned debtors in the city.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, & humbly to implore His protection & favor, & whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving & prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety & happiness. Now therefore I do recommend & assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great & glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere & humble thanks, for His kind care & protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal & manifold mercies, & the favorable interpositions of His providence, which we experienced in the course & conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, & plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable & rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety & happiness, & particularly the national one now lately instituted, for the civil & religious liberty with which we are blessed; & the means we have of acquiring & diffusing useful knowledge; & in general for all the great & various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us. & also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers & supplications to the great Lord & Ruler of Nations & beseech Him to pardon our national & other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several & relative duties properly & punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, & constitutional laws, discreetly & faithfully executed & obeyed, to protect & guide all Sovereigns & Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) & to bless them with good government, peace, & concord. To promote the knowledge & practice of true religion & virtue, & the increase of science among them & Us, & generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best. Given under my h& at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington

Monday, November 20, 2023

1782 Continental Congress Thanksgiving Proclamation

John Hanson of Maryland was born on 3 April 1721, his father, Samuel Hanson Sr., was 37 & his mother, Elizabeth Story, was 33. He married Jane Contee in 1747, in colonial Maryland. They were the parents of at least 7 sons & 7 daughters. He was an attorney & merchant & president of continental congress. He died on 22 November 1783, at the age of 62.

The first proclamation in the independent United States was issued by John Hancock as President of the Continental Congress as a day of fasting on March 16, 1776. The first national Thanksgiving was celebrated on December 18, 1777, & the Continental Congress issued National Thanksgiving Day proclamations each year between 1778 & 1784

The Continental Congress, the legislative body that governed the United States from 1774 to 1789, issued several "national days of prayer, humiliation, and thanksgiving", a practice that was continued by presidents Washington and Adams under the Constitution, and has manifested itself in the established American observances of Thanksgiving and the National Day of Prayer today.

This proclamation was published in The Independent Gazetteer, or the Chronicle of Freedom, on November 5, 1782, the first being observed on November 28, 1782:

By the United States in Congress assembled, PROCLAMATION.

It being the indispensable duty of all nations, not only to offer up their supplications to Almighty God, the giver of all good, for His gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also in a solemn and public manner, to give Him praise for His goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of His Providence in their behalf; therefore, the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of Divine goodness to these States in the course of the important conflict, in which they have been so long engaged; the present happy and promising state of public affairs, and the events of the war in the course of the year now drawing to a close; particularly the harmony of the public Councils which is so necessary to the success of the public cause; the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between them and their allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied attempts of the common enemy to divide them; the success of the arms of the United States and those of their allies; and the acknowledgment of their Independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these States; Do hereby recommend it to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe and request the several states to interpose their authority, in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the TWENTY-EIGHTH DAY OF NOVEMBER next as a day of SOLEMN THANKSGIVING to GOD for all His mercies; and they do further recommend to all ranks to testify their gratitude to God for His goodness by a cheerful obedience to His laws and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.

Done in Congress at Philadelphia, the eleventh day of October, in the year of our LORD, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence, the seventh.

JOHN HANSON, President. CHARLES THOMSON, Secretary.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

1777 Samuel Adams on Thanksgiving at the Continental Congress


As the nation was forming, Samuel Adams proposed at the Continental Congress on November 1, 1777, "It is therefore recommended - to set apart (a day) for the solemn thanksgiving and praise: That with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor..."

When writing of his cousin Samuel Adams(1722-1803), John Adams professed that he had “the most thorough understanding of liberty;” was “zealous and keen in the cause;” & that Samuel embodied “steadfast integrity” & “universal good character.” Royal Governor, Thomas Hutchinson had a different perspective of Samuel Adams, claiming there existed no “greater incendiary in the King’s dominion or a man of greater malignity of heart who has less scruples any measure however criminal to accomplish his purposes.” 

At the time Samuel Adams stood as, above all else, an ardent Patriot for Independence. In 1765, he was elected to the Massachusetts Assembly where he served as clerk for many years. It was there that he was the first to propose a Continental Congress.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

1777 Thanksgiving during The Revolution

 

17-year-old Private Joseph Plumb Martin (1760-1850) recounted this memorable Thanksgiving meal in Pennsylvania with wry humor, and mentioned it several more times in his 1828 memoir.
"While we lay here there was a Continental thanksgiving ordered by Congress; and as the army had all the cause in the world to be particularly thankful, if not for being well off, at least it was no worse, we were ordered to participate in it. We had nothing to eat for two or three days previous, except what the trees of the fields and forests afforded us. But now we must have what Congress said - a sumptuous thanksgiving to close the year of high living, we had now nearly seen brought to a close. Well - to add something extraordinary to our present stock of provisions, our country, ever mindful of its suffering army, opened her sympathizing heart so wide, upon this occasion, as to give us something to make the world stare. And what do you think it was, reader? - Guess. - You cannot guess, be you as much of a Yankee as you will.  I will tell you: it gave each and every man half a gill [1/4 cup] of rice, and a table spoon full of vinegar!! 

"After we had made sure of this extraordinary superabundant donation, we were ordered out to attend a meeting and hear a sermon... I remember the text... “And the soldiers said unto him, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, ‘Do violence to no man, nor accuse anyone falsely.’” The preacher ought to have added the remainder of the sentence to have made it complete, “And be content with your wages." But that would not do, it would be too apropos; however, he heard it as soon as the service was over, it was shouted from a hundred tongues.

"As we returned to our camp, we passed by our Commissary’s quarters, all his stores, consisting of a barrel about two thirds full of books of fresh beef, stood directly in our way, but there was a sentinel guarding even that; however, one of my messmates purloined a piece of it, four or five pounds perhaps. I was exceeding glad to see him take it, I thought it might help to eke out our thanksgiving supper; but, alas! how soon my expectations were blasted!—The sentinel saw him have it as soon as I did and obliged him to return it to the barrel again. So I had nothing else to do but to go home and make out my supper as usual, upon a leg of nothing and no turnips.

"The army was now [December 1777] not only starved but naked; the greater part were not only shirtless and barefoot, but destitute of all other clothing, especially blankets... But hunger, nakedness and sore shins were not the only difficulties we had at that time to encounter; --- we had hard duty to perform and little or no strength to perform it with.... we marched for the Valley Forge in order to take up our winter-quarters.  We were now in a truly forlorn condition, -- no clothing, no provisions and as disheartened as need be... a few days before Christmas."

A Narrative of some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier; interspersed with anecdotes of incidents that occurred within his own observation.  Hallowell, ME: 1830. by Joseph Plumb Martin

Friday, November 17, 2023

1771 Thanksgiving ftom Diary of 10-yr-old Anna Green Winslow (1759-1780)



 Diary of 10-yr-old Anna Green Winslow (1759-1780)  (with notes by Alice Morse Earle 1895( 

Anna Green Winslow (1759-1779) was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the daughter of Joshua Winslow (1726/27-1801) & his wife Anna Green (1728-1814). In 1770, at the age of 10, she was sent to a finishing school in Boston, where she lived with her aunt & uncle, Sarah & John Deming.  During her separation from her family, she kept a diary sporadically from November 1771 to May 1773. Her aunt encouraged the diary as a penmanship exercise & as a running letter to her parents. Most entries detail her daily routine. She writes of sermons; jokes; weather; entertainments; current fashions; & family matters. She records her practice at sewing, spinning, reading, & writing.

Winslow was reunited with her family in 1773, when Joshua Winslow moved them to Marshfield, Massachusetts. In 1775, he was exiled as a Tory; his family remained behind. Before the end of the Revolution, Anna Green Winslow died of tuberculosis in Hingham, Massachusetts. Her father moved to Quebec, where he became a Royal Paymaster. Anna was 20, when she died.


"Lady, by which means I had a bit of the wedding cake. I guess I shall have but little time for journalising till after thanksgiving. My aunt Deming1 says I shall make one pye myself at least. I hope somebody beside myself will like to eat a bit of my Boston pye thou' my papa and you did not (I remember) chuse to partake of my Cumberland performance. I think I have been writing my own Praises this morning. Poor Job was forced to praise himself when no man would do him that justice. I am not as he was. I have made two shirts for unkle since I finish'd mamma's shifts."

Thursday, November 16, 2023

1770s-80s British America Thanksgiving Dinners

Kitchen Still Life Attributed to Martin Dichtl (1639-1710)

1779
"This menu for a New England Thanksgiving dinner is taken from a letter written in 1779 by Juliana Smith to her 'Dear Cousing Betsey.'

Haunch of Venison Roast Chine of Pork
Roast Turkey Pigeon Pasties Roast Goose
Onions in Cream Cauliflower Squash
Potatoes Raw Celery
Mincemeat Pie Pumpkin Pie Apple Pie
Indian Pudding Plum Pudding
Cider

 Kitchen Still Life Peter Jakob Horemans ( 1700–1776 )

While it would be difficult to set forth a single 'traditional' Thanksgiving menu, the preparations related by Juliana Smith that went into this dinner were certainly typical of early New England Thanksgivings. 'This year it was Uncle Simeon's turn to have the dinner at his house, but of course we all helped them as they help us when it is their turn, & there is always enough for us all to do. All the baking of pies & cakes was done at our house & we had the big oven heated & filled twice each day for three days before it was all done & everything was GOOD, though we did have to do without some things that ought to be used. Neither Love nor (paper) Money could buy Raisins, but our good red cherries dried without the pits, did almost as well & happily Uncle Simeon still had some spices in store. The tables were set in the Dining Hall and even that big room had no space to spare when we were all seated.' Apparently roast beef was part of the tradition menu for this family, but 'of course we could have no Roast Beef. None of us have tasted Beef this three years back as it must all go to the Army, & too little they get, poor fellows. But, Nayquittymaw's Hunters were able to get us a fine red Deer, so that we had a good haunch of Venisson on each Table.' There was an abundance of vegetables on the table...Cider was served instead of wine, wiht the explanation that Uncle Simeon was saving his cask 'for the sick.' Juliana added that 'The Pumpkin Pies, Apple Tarts & big Indian Puddings lacked for nothing save Appetite by the time we had got round to them...We did not rise from the Table until it was quite dark, & then when the dishes had been cleared away we all got round the fire as close as we could, & cracked nuts, & sang songs & told stories."

American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated History of American Eating & Drinking, Menus and Recipes, 
Helen McCully recipe editor [American Heritage Publishing Co.:New York] 1964 (p.416-417)

Pantry Still Life by candlelight 1630 - Georg Flegel (1566-1638)

1788
The pioneering American surgeon Mason Finch Cogswell, born in 1691 in Canterbury, Connecticut, described a typical eighteenth century Thanksgiving meal in his 1788 journal...On Thanksgiving day...he attended church in the morning, ate a dinner afterward consisting of turkey, pork, pumpkins, and apple pies...Cogswell spent time with his fater, then sang gonts and ate apples and nuts in the kitchen with his stepsisters before going to bed."

Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie,
Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver and Pilmoth Plantation [Clarkson Potter:New York] 2005 [(p. 30-31)

Stiil Life with Rabbit Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744–1818)