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Football may trump turkey this Thanksgiving

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2008-11-27

The hapless Detroit Lions have as much to worry about this Thanksgiving Day as ol’ tom turkey does.

The tradition of granting a presidential pardon to the turkey sent to the White House continued this week, but the winless Lions aren’t so sure of their fate this holiday as they face the Tennessee Titans on the National Football League gridiron. Detroit knows the Titans will be fired up as they roar back from their first loss of the season last week to the New York Jets, although they’re still atop the ratings pile at 10-1.

The Lions, meanwhile, are still searching for its first win of the year after falling last week to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Detroit is a perennial performer in the annual Thanksgiving Day football special, playing in every single holiday game since 1934.

This year marked the 61st anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation. Although live Thanksgiving turkeys have been presented intermittently to presidents since the Lincoln administration, the current ceremony dates to 1947, when the first National Thanksgiving Turkey was presented to President Harry Truman. Presidents traditionally have granted the National Thanksgiving Turkey a "pardon". After the presentation, the turkey is flown first class to Disney World in Orlando, where he will be the grand marshal of “Disney’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.” After the parade, guests will be able to visit the bird in the backyard of Mickey’s Country House in Magic Kingdom Park.

An estimated 293 million turkeys became holiday dinner in America last year, top billing on dining room tables during American-style festivities that pay homage to the first settlers in North America, the pilgrims in the early 1600’s. After pilgrims fled their native England in 1609 to escape religious prosecution, they traveled to Holland before migrating to the New World. In exchange for the boat ride, those adventurous Englishmen and their families agreed to work for financial backers seven years in what is now the United States.

Their first fall in the new land brought a bountiful harvest, with enough corn, fruits and vegetables to store for the winter. The pilgrims celebrated with their Indian neighbors in what is now traditionally called the first thanksgiving. Squanto and 90 Indian braves joined in a three-day celebration of games, races and skills demonstrations with their bows and arrows, and the pilgrims’ muskets.

Harvest thanksgiving celebrations didn’t begin with the pilgrims, though, dating back thousands of years to festivities heralded by the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Chinese and the Egyptians. Greeks worshipped many gods and goddesses, with their goddess of corn and grains at the forefront. Across the Mediterranean, ancient Egyptians commemorated their harvest festival in the spring, honoring Min, the god of fertility and vegetation. The Pharaoh joined the festivities, and farmers wept and pretended to be grief-stricken, an effort to mislead Min, who they thought would be angry at the corn harvests. Jewish families, likewise, have been celebrating Sukkoth, a harvest festival, each autumn for more than 3,000 years.

Here in Asia, Chung Ch’ui, the Chinese harvest festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar year, in tribute to the moon. The festival gives thanks for good fortunes with moon cakes, yellow and round, shaped like the moon.

Thanksgiving in America became an institution as early as the late 1600’s, but turkey found its place when President Abraham Lincoln made it a formal holiday in 1863. By Lincoln’s orders, the feast was to extend to all Union soldiers fighting the Civil War, and turkeys were chosen over chickens because they were bigger and more cost-effective.

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