Happy Thanksgiving to our readers in the New World (southern) Colonies (offer void in Canada, as you've already had your Thanksgiving holiday). This is the quintessential American holiday; quite frankly, you won't find a more American holiday. Infused with our national DNA, this is a day that the Fed.Gov tells you to give thanks for whatever you want. And that's where it gets pretty strange, at least when you try to explain things to non-Americans.
Non-American: So this is a holiday?
Non-American: What's the deal where the Government gives you a day off?
American: It's for us to be thankful.
Non-American: The Government tells you to be thankful? About what?
American: Whatever you want.
After that, it gets pretty strange, in a very American way. What are you grateful for? Well, it's your choice - nobody will tell you what to give thanks for. Even in this degraded age of Social Justice, nobody will tell you where your gratitude should be directed.
It's also a day for fun. This is one of the classic episodes - dare I use the much desired adjective seminal? - of all American TV. It is hilarious for American audiences, and yet might take some explaining for overseas folks.
That's just the set-up, of course. The concluding line qualifies for the much desired adjective iconic:
After that it got pretty strange.
The newspaper humorist Art Buchwald bought a one-way ticket to Paris in 1948. In the 1960s he wrote the following, to explain Thanksgiving to a French audience. It's very funny, but funny in a way that offers surprising depth. The local paper would publish this every year, and Dad (a scholar of Franco-American history) would laugh and laugh, every year. You see, Dad appreciated the unexpected depth that showed through the fractured French:
This confidential column was leaked to me by a high government official in the Plymouth colony on the condition that I not reveal his name.
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant .
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims ( Pelerins ) who fled from l'Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World ( le Nouveau Monde ) where they could shoot Indians ( les Peaux-Rouges ) and eat turkey ( dinde ) to their hearts' content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine ) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai ) in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them to grow corn ( mais ). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pelerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins' crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.
Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilometres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant :
"Go to the damsel Priscilla ( allez tres vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth ( la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action ( un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe ), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.
"I am a maker of war ( je suis un fabricant de la guerre ) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar ( vous, qui tes pain comme un tudiant ), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden."
Although Jean was fit to be tied ( convenable tre emballe ), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow ( rendue muette par l'tonnement et las tristesse ).
At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: "If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?" ( Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance ?)
Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ( Chacun a son gout. )
And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes and, for the only time during the year, eat better than the French do.
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fte and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.
2005Tribune Media Services
Kilometres Deboutish. Le jour de Merci Donnant. Chacun a son gout (that's particularly hilarious, at least to Dad and me). After that it got pretty strange. And As God Is My Witness, I Thought Turkeys Could Fly.
You won't have as great a jour de Merci Donnant as I will because you won't won't have The Queen Of The World cooking Thanksgiving dinner for you. But I hope you have a great day, a day of being thankful for whatever you want. That's very American, wherever you may live.