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Talking Turkey, Pigskin and Leftovers

Happy Thanksgiving to all from everyone here at Webb Weekly!

Where has the year gone? The beginning of the holiday season has descended on the West Branch Valley. There are so many great events celebrating Christmas scheduled for our area; some have already begun the celebration. Almost all can be found within our pages. Get out and enjoy the concerts, shows and events in your community. The hustle and bustle of Black Friday and the holiday shopping season is ready to kick off, shoppers get out and save. The tradition of the Pennsylvania rifle deer season has area hunters with visions of big bucks dancing in their heads.  This, like so many, is one of my favorite times of year and Penn’s Woods. There’s something for everyone to enjoy and partake in this time of year. Get out and about.

First up though is a day to slow down and say thanks. The traditional Thanksgiving in America. A day of family, food and yes, football. A day to go to Grandmother’s house, but to also remember to call your family and friends to say hello and happy Thanksgiving. Most importantly make sure to say grace and give thanks for all we are blessed with. Explain the true meaning of the day to our young folks and pass on the great message of Thanksgiving.

The first “Feast of Thanks” took place in 1621 in Plymouth. It was a celebration of the autumn harvest. The newly arrived pilgrims—who were our colonists of what eventually became Massachusetts, gathered with the Wampanoag Indians. It was a Native American tradition to give thanks to the “Creator” for gifts of daily life.

Obviously the Wampanoag tribe was instrumental in teaching the settlers how to harvest the natural resources and farm the land. The pilgrims also had a similar tradition brought from their homeland to thank God for a “harvest of plenty.” So it was a mutual breaking of bread for all the right reasons.

Our traditional Thanksgiving turkey did not grace their outdoor table of celebration according to historians. The roasted birds of that day were duck, geese and swan. Venison was prevalent along with lobster, clams and fish. Turkey did not become an American tradition until two years later.

The number one leftover of the day was turning the venison, foul or even fish into jerky. Salting it heavy, smoking it and drying by this process dehydrated the meat so it would last the winter or at least until next week. My sons would’ve had no problem with that, especially Hunter. He goes through venison jerky like a pilgrim or Indian.

The wild turkey was actually, along with the bald eagle, a national symbol in our Nation’s early days. Pennsylvania’s own Ben Franklin fought for the bird to be the sole symbol of the United States. In 1782 Mr. Franklin lost out to a federal vote and the bald eagle became the symbol for our national seal.

It wasn’t until President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday that turkey became the meal of choice.

President Lincoln proclaimed, “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens,” to be celebrated the last Thursday in November. He also preferred turkey as his meal of choice for the presidential table; this was coupled with the cookbooks of the time recommending turkey for the celebration and increasing its popularity. But the real big push in that day came from the raisers and sellers of the domesticated turkeys.

One of honest Abe’s praises of the turkey as a Thanksgiving meal was, “It could be used a second time.” Sounds like a Presidential endorsement for leftovers to me. I wonder if he enjoyed a cold turkey sandwich on the White House lawn. You had to love Mr. Lincoln’s practicality.

This Thanksgiving over 46 million turkeys, cooked hopefully to perfection, will be served in our great Nation. Obviously, almost all are domestic birds not wild turkeys. That’s a lot of cooking, carving and pass the gravy please.

Football became a Thanksgiving tradition in the 1870s. It was first the high schools and club type organization that began playing on Turkey Day. Yale and Princeton played the first collegiate Thanksgiving Day game in 1876.

As far as the NFL, their first Thanksgiving date matchup was in 1920 pairing the rival Chicago Tigers against the Decatur Staleys. The game was played on Thanksgiving as the teams challenged each other to “a dual” over a tie game. Part of the agreement of the game was the loser had to withdraw from the league and “fold up” operations. The Staleys of Decatur Illinois won the contest and became the Chicago Bears the following season. The Chicago Tigers finished their schedule that year and folded to honor the agreement.

The Detroit Lions played on Thanksgiving Day beginning in 1917 but were not yet members of the NFL. They begin their tradition of turkey and touchdowns in 1934. They have played 71 times on Thanksgiving missing only the years of World War II.

The Dallas Cowboys have played on Thanksgiving Day since 1966. A tradition created by owner Tex Schramm to highlight what came to be known as “America’s Team”.

So enjoy that most special day of family, food and football. Don’t forget to save room for dessert. And if you do, pumpkin pie with extra whipped cream might make the best leftover.

God Bless America.

Jim Webb

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