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Clippings: Thanksgiving traditions go way back

It is generally accepted that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims. We know they invited the local Wampanoag to join them. And we also know that turkey was on the menu. What is less known is that a couple of modern Thanksgiving traditions are actually rooted in that long-ago meal.
Take the Thanksgiving hotline. In 2014 we have at our fingertips all the help we could ever need to prepare the big meal. Butterball has its 24-hour phone line. The Food Network puts on show after show with turkey tips and sides recipes. And the Internet is overflowing with debates about whether to stuff or not. These resources were obviously unavailable in 1621, but that did not stop one Pilgrim cook from creating the first Thanksgiving hotline.
In June of 1621 Elizabeth Hopkins sent a letter by ship back to her mother, Rachel Ray Hopkins, in England. She asked for advice with the big meal. “Dear Mum,” she wrote, “the men of the colony have proposed a big ‘Thanksgiving’ meal for the coming fall. They, of course, expect the womenfolk, though we be few in number (did I mention only four of us are still around), to take care of all the cooking. No doubt after which we will also do all the cleaning. What is their problem? You thinketh they could lift a broom every once in a while. That Myles Standish is the worst of them. He sits around on his arse all day doing nothing, but when I ask him for a little help he rolls his eyes to ye heavens and says he has something important to do. What a jerk! So much for the ‘New’ World. Anywho, could you send along your recipe for chestnut stuffing? Also, any ideas for what I can do with corn? Please respond quickly as I feel as though I have begun to freaketh out.”
Poor Elizabeth did not hear back in time for the big meal (a response was not received in the colony until May of 1622) and she completely botched the chestnut stuffing. In the months after the first Thanksgiving every time Myles Standish crossed paths with Elizabeth he pretended he was about to throw up (turns out he really was a jerk). And a young man named Dudley Cushman began calling Elizabeth “Chestnut Stuffing.” At first she was annoyed, but when she nailed the stuffing at Thanksgiving 1622 (with the recipe from Rachel Ray) Dudley changed his tune and started referring to her as “my little chestnut.” By Thanksgiving 1623 they were husband and wife.
Not only did Elizabeth Hopkins invent the Thanksgiving hotline, she also inspired the phrase “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
Another modern tradition invented back in 1621 is the Thanksgiving Day professional football game. I know what you are saying, “Football wasn’t invented until the late 1880s.” And “The first professional football game played on Thanksgiving didn’t happen until 1934.” Also, “The Detroit Lions didn’t exist in 1621. There wasn’t even a Detroit!” OK, simmer down. Reserve judgment until after you read the following diary entry by Pilgrim Walter Camp.
On Thanksgiving night, 1621, Camp wrote, “Dear Diary, today we celebrated what we called Thanksgiving. It was off the hand-forged hook. I predict it will be a big deal for years to come. The meal was mostly delicious (don’t ask about the chestnut stuffing) and afterwards, while the womenfolk cleaned, we retreated to an open field to relax and stretch out in the prone position. Our bellies were quite extended and many of us had to loosen the ridiculously large buckles we wear. Can someone explain these buckles? And why must we wear them on our hats as well? I feel silly but cannot speaketh my mind for fear of retribution from Myles Standish. He will probably pull rank and demand I wear the frilly, high white collar he favors. He thinks he is all that and a bag of cornmeal. What a jerk.
“Anywho, while laying around after dinner we all wished we could engage in some sort of sporting activity to work off our meal-induced sluggishness but nobody could move. We asked some of the children to run around in front of us to see if that would help. Two of the Wampanoag children had taken the skin from a turkey the day before and fashioned it into a sort of ball by sewing it around a few handfuls of dried leaves. The children, who taunted each other with calls of “gobble, gobble,” would jump on whoever had the turkey ball. We men all enjoyed watching and shared much merriment from our relaxed and immobile positions (all but young Dudley Cushman, that is, who couldn’t seem to keepeth his eyes off Elizabeth Hopkins).
“After about three hours Standish (again with Standish!) stood to his feet and proclaimed the game over. He said he was bored and that the game needed rules to be more entertaining. I swore at him under my breath and then said out loud, ‘What the game needs is a better ball. Turkey skin is no good. A ball can’t have legs!’ Standish, in his best I-am-better-than-you voice, asked ‘What do you propose?’ I said the answer was obvious. Pigskin!”
The rest is history.

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