A slice of Thanksgiving trivia to go with your Sweet Potato Casserole

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Jean Simmons, columnist

Jean Simmons is a Franklin resident, nurse and published author who won a Janice Keck Literary Award from the Williamson County Public Library in 2014. She can be contacted at jean_simmons@hotmail.com

In my opinion, Thanksgiving is a misunderstood holiday. 

What is it really about? How did it start? This is not an expose of the holiday, just an attempt to look at some interesting facts concerning our great American feast. 

We all know the holiday started with the Pilgrims, and we know they wore funny clothes and hats. We also know when the Pilgrims arrived in America, the Wampanoag taught them how to cultivate the land and a magnificent celebration was planned in 1621 to celebrate a great harvest and thank the Wampanoag. Thus, we had our first Thanksgiving. You may not know that it was actually quite the blowout, lasting three whole days.

You may also not know that in the mid-19th century, it was a woman by the name of Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer and influential magazine editor, who petitioned for a national thanksgiving holiday. (She is also the author of the children’s rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”) 

Thanksgiving became an annual event in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. Congress made it an official holiday in 1941.

Interestingly, the first Thanksgiving feast was made up of lobster, chestnuts, onions, fruits, rabbit, chicken and various other local delicacies. No turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, or Mama’s sweet potato casserole. (Speaking of Mama’s sweet potato casserole, I haven’t even looked at any new, “improved” sweet potato casserole dish recipes. Just saw some recipes for sweet potato tortillas, sweet potato lasagna, sweet potato nachos, hash, skins and even pretzels. Maybe instead of trying to put a new spin on sweet potatoes, I should just stick with the best, Mama’s version.)

Anyway, getting back to the topic of Thanksgiving and how it has evolved into the family gatherings of today — complete with heated political discussions and other contentious topics often spurred by too much wine with dinner — I wonder if the first Thanksgiving celebrants had to deal with family drama.

They probably had other issues to discuss, such as how to survive in the wilderness and not freeze to death. Better topics than having to listen to an obnoxious nephew talk about what is wrong with this country and our generation.

To me, Thanksgiving means a time to get together with family and friends, put aside differences and give thanks for all that we have and for what our great country has given us (take that, obnoxious nephew). And to stuff ourselves, of course. 

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!




Jean Simmons is a Franklin resident, published author, and former nurse. She can be contacted at jean_simmons@hotmail.com

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