My only notable historic ancestor is Mary Dyer, who was hanged on the Common for heresy. You know how she was, ol’ Great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-aunt Mary—always ready with a joke or some lighthearted heresy. When I tell you that Mary Dyer was hanged, hopefully you learn something: “Hanged” is the correct past tense when you’re describing an actual hanging. It doesn’t make sense to me any more than it did to Mary Dyer.
Anyway, all this Puritan talk is probably making you hungry. If you’re like me, nothing stirs the appetite like stories of hardship for a long-ago religious cult. So I’m going to tell you how to host a great Thanksgiving, but first we need some perspective on a holiday that is beloved and celebrated all around the world.
At the first Thanksgiving, everybody gathered around a really sweet hand-hewn heirloom-quality farmhouse table, but nobody there was named Chase or Avery. Atop that table was a cornucopia of invisible viruses and bacteria, and atop those, a bounteous spread: maize, lobsters, lobster-and-maize stew, maize bread with smeared lobster and, for dessert, lobster-maize cookies with extra maize. It was a time for giving thanks, and not for complaining about one’s smallpox, Abigail. Everybody ate until they were stuffed and saying things like, “Verily, I have a total lobster coma,” and “I don’t think I can eat maize ever again. But of course I will, for it is all we have to sustain us through the deadly cold of the upcoming winter. Can someone tell me again why we didn’t land in Fort Lauderdale?” Then they all went outside to throw the ol’ lobster around and gaze across the bay at the Cape, where they wished to go for the weekend, but it was all booked up so Plymouth would have to do.
Notably absent in all of this: turkeys. There was no turkey at the first Thanksgiving. But the menus did evolve. In the second year they served lobster stuffed with crab stuffed with oysters stuffed with clams. The dish was called Lobcroylam and it was invented by one of the lesser-known Mayflower voyagers, a pilgrim by the name of Jebediah Madden. Jebediah died after a local witch cast a spell on him, afflicting him with a terrible curse that made him look like he had gout and a heart attack. But he died as an old man, living to the astonishing age of 34.
Turkey would not feature in Thanksgiving until 1799, when a host had to accommodate a guest with a shellfish allergy. That guest’s name: Jebediah Butterball. The rest is history.
Nowadays, turkey is so familiar that you might be bored with it. Well, you eat it once a year, so of course it grows tiresome. How about frying a turkey, then? All you need is a giant open flame and a vat of flammable oil. There’s probably not much that could go wrong, but just to be on the safe side, you should contract out your turkey frying to the bomb-disposal unit of your local SWAT team. They’ll carefully lower the turkey into the oil, gripping it firmly with robotic pincers operated from an armored van parked 300 yards away. If all goes well, you’ll get golden brown, juicy turkey that tastes slightly different than the golden brown, juicy turkey from the oven.
But Thanksgiving isn’t just about poultry and grease fires. It’s also about family. There’s nothing better than getting your whole family together in one place and then giving them a call from your hotel room in Turks and Caicos. I’m kidding—it’s prohibitively expensive to fly to the Caribbean over Thanksgiving. You should just drive to Florida and call them from there. No, not on your real phone, you idiot! Ever heard of GPS tracking? Buy a burner at a truck stop on the way down.
Really, though, everyone loves hanging out with the fam. I asked one of my friends whether his dad was coming over for Thanksgiving, and he said, “No, why? You want him to come to your house?” People are such kidders!
The great thing about Thanksgiving is that it’s not commercialized. All you have to buy is $400 worth of groceries and a bunch of that genetically engineered multicolored corn to hang on the door. Plus, a pilgrim hat and an autumn-hued tablecloth and themed goodie bags filled with mini chocolate muskets and Mohegan Sun poker chips. Then there’s the photographer to document how much wholesome fun you’re having, and the wait staff to carry the gourds, and the turkey wrangler to make sure the live birds on the lawn don’t peck any of the children who are out playing touch football as required by Massachusetts state law. OK, sure, I blow 10 grand when it’s all said and done. But all you really need is food, loved ones and the turkey wrangler. That one’s really non-negotiable, for liability reasons.
Now, as Mary Dyer might’ve said, merry Christmas!