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  • Bill Chastain

TOYS AND GAMES: Behind the Scenes at the First Thanksgiving

Flash back to the picnic that turned into a national holiday.

Did the  Wampanoag tribe invite the Pilgrims over or visa-versa? Formal occasion? Bloody Marys, or Mimosas? Did they watch the Macy’s Parade (Macy’s sold a lot of trinkets in those days) or play touch football?

Alas, some questions will remain unanswered. Fortunately, I’ve managed to piece together the facts to answer the important ones. Remember, I see things and I’m pretty good at using the Internet (Remember, Abraham Lincoln said you should always believe the Internet, right?). Combining those gifts, I’ve uncovered what really happened at the inaugural Thanksgiving. Thus, all should be enlightened as to how the traditions we follow were born.

First, the easy stuff.

According to Wikipedia, the date of the first Thanksgiving is unclear. No problem. Any moron can approximate that it took place some time after November 20 and before December 1. College football rivalry week, right? Game Day featured a solo Lee Corso in 1621.

Now, the pla-yahs.

I’ve always been taught to follow the money, and in the case of Thanksgiving, I’ve got to go with the idea that the Wampanoag tribe and one or two enterprising Plymouth Plantation settlers (picture Mr. Haney from Green Acres) were in cahoots, much like Sergeant O’Roarke and Corporal Agarn were with the Hekawis—led by Chief Wild Eagle, in F Troop. Thus, the genesis of the turkey tradition, the kids table, and Black Friday.

Yes, the settlers had a crop they proudly harvested prior to that first Thanksgiving, but as any settler worth his broadcloth suit would tell you, you gotta have meat. Enter the opportunistic Wampanoag, who just so happened to have a surplus of Swanson frozen turkey and mash potato meals they needed to unload. Underneath the mandate to “sell before November 1622” the directions read:  “Vent by making a cut in the plastic then place over campfire. Cook until the turkey is browned or the plastic melts.”

While I’m not the biggest fan of turkey, Thanksgiving tradition is blessed that the Wampanoag did not have a surplus of spam that fall.

My friend Gary recounted how his sister and he would get stuck at the kids table on Thanksgiving. That arrangement fostered wild calculations about the ill fortunes that needed to click into place for them to move up to the adult table. Of course, once you’re an adult, you realize you’d rather be sitting at the kids table (provided you can bring along your adult beverages), but when you’re a kid, you’re pissed.

Alas, Gary’s, and his sister’s, calculations — despite good intentions, were misdirected. Progressing from the kids table never depended on Uncle Eddie passing to the other side of the grass, rather it was all about the Benjamins — or pre-Benjamins, at the first Thanksgiving. Once again, credit Wampanoag ingenuity. They had the insight to bring priority seating to the equation.

Pilgrim parents were thrifty. They weren’t about to cough up extra seat licensing funds just so their kids could sit alongside them at the adult table. Said fiscal position relegated the kids to the cheap seats, which came to be known as the kids table, a.k.a., the nose-bleed section or standing room only.

Finally, the Wampanoag knew retail. Carbon dating uncovered tree bark advertising the many sales they offered the day after Thanksgiving. Pilgrim husbands slipped their wives a few shekels to trade so they could hunt or watch football. And Black Friday was born featuring shops we still love today. Note: Restoration Hardware went by “Hardware” and Anne Taylor was Anne Rosencranz (maiden name).

So that’s the unvarnished truth about what happened at the first Thanksgiving. Internet research combined with ’60s sitcoms is about as credible as it gets. Well, at least as credible as an Oliver Stone flick.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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