On the Ridge: Thanksgiving…. Family, food, football, and sometimes hunting

Published: 11/27/2019 9:15:51 PM

If you’ve ever read the writings of James W. Baker, past historian for Plimoth Planation, you’ll begin to understand why Thanksgiving has so many traditions attached to it. Even the holiday itself is depicted as a somewhat “invented” tradition based around history and folklore. Baker states, “It’s clear Thanksgiving did not originate from any one event. Rather, it’s based on New England Puritan beliefs very religious in their origins. Traditional harvest celebrations of England, and New England, which might include celebrating the pilgrims. The crossing of the Mayflower and the reasons why it happened. The Native Americans who befriended them. And “the feast” which continues today in homes everywhere. All these things, and more, have been gathered together and transformed into something very different from the original parts.” But, these many traditions, celebrations, and history, still remain unique to families everywhere who celebrate this holiday each year.

Like many others growing up in different places, I first experienced Thanksgiving as a boy in rural New York state. That meant deer hunting was always a part of it. Early in the morning, neighbors would gather and we would head out to wherever our parents and grandparents would take us. And yes, they would plant us somewhere in the woods hoping we would sit quietly while they watched the fields for deer. But, as with all fidgety young boys, I think the deer knew exactly where we were most of the time.

The hunting never lasted very long, as we were soon whisked away to someone’s house for Thanksgiving breakfast, and what a breakfast it was. Only now, years later, will I confess that we just pretended to be hunting on those mornings. What we really wanted was to get into that great food which our mothers, grandmothers, and even aunties, would prepare for the us. And as the years went on, those relationships became deep and very real. As did the relationship we developed for the whitetail deer we were hunting, in ways that have stayed with us throughout our lifetime.

This bond between a wild animal and a human is only understood through close and frequent contact. This includes studying an animal’s habits, its life cycle, where and how it lives, even how it’s dependent upon others for survival. Over a period, a bond can form, as it did between myself and wild turkeys.

1. But why or how could a bond form with wild turkeys? They are not particularly friendly, amusing, or cuddly and they don’t require supportive care. But they do at times show tremendous courage, and they represent a milestone as the number one wildlife conservation success story in the history of our state. Which is why, in Massachusetts, a day was set aside in their honor.

No, it’s not Thanksgiving Day; even though that’s a great guess. Eastern Wild Turkey Day is celebrated on November 18. And every year at the Judd household, sounds of “Happy Eastern Wild Turkey Day” can be heard throughout our home. A little weird, maybe, but it works for us.

Which brings us back to Thanksgiving — my favorite all time holiday, mainly because of the joy it brought to my beautiful mother who loved that day and reveled in making it so great for all of us in very humble, yet special ways. To this day, I still miss her greatly. But much has changed since then as the holiday we celebrate in 2019 is focused more on football, midnight shopping and Black Friday than it is on history, family, food and “gathering together to ask your Lord’s blessings.”

One thing that hasn’t changed however is “the feast,” which of course is a given. That said, I admit to watching every football game on Thanksgiving Day. But the midnight shopping I can do without. Yet I know thousands, maybe millions, of others who feel just the opposite about that. That’s a big change since my childhood, not to mention what it must have been like nearly 400 years ago. Much about that day is still unknown, yet clues continue to surface regarding that first feast between the Pilgrims and Native Americans in hopes of finding out more.

But here’s five things I absolutely do know, as told to me by the good people of Pilgrim Hall Museum, about this three-day event back in 1621 which would go on to be the birth of our American Thanksgiving:

1. More than 140 people gathered at that first table in a spirit of peace. Wampanoags, who lived on this land many years before the Pilgrims arrived, attended and became key to the Colonists’ survival in those early years. History tells us that no one knows exactly what prompted the two groups to come together. But it became the catalyst for what is now the annual November gathering of families and friends. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln recommended a proclamation declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday. In 1941, Congress made it official.

2. Many of the Wampanoag people traveled on foot for days to attend this celebration. And if it took that long to get there, then they probably should have stayed for a while.

3. Venison was on the menu with an abundance of other upland game and fish. Governor William Bradford indicated in his writings that, “There was also wild turkey and a great store of ducks and geese.” Records also indicate that Wampanoag leader Massasoit contributed five deer to the meal.

4. It was not called Thanksgiving, as no evidence can be found to support this. Interestingly enough, this would be the last gathering of these two groups for at least five years.

5. Lastly, the peace between the original colonists and Native Americans lasted for only a decade. In the late 1630s, dark days would follow with the arrival of thousands more English settlers.

But that’s a history lesson for another day, to be given by someone other than this ridge-runner. For now, let’s leave this story in a better place. Let’s leave it with turkey dinners, cranberries, candied yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and all the special moments associated with a day of giving thanks. Whether it be enjoying time spent with family and friends, here or far away; gathering, talking, laughing, maybe hunting, or just remembering. Or watching football games, parades filled with floats, music, marching bands, and yes, maybe even looking forward to going shopping at midnight.

Whatever your traditions are, hopefully the day is what you want it to be. For my family, we gather this day to give thanks that we’re together and for the family we love, the friends we cherish, and for the blessings we have, and hope will come. And my wish for all of you on this day is, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and outdoorsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, consultant and active member of the New England Outdoor Writers Assoc. Joe is also a member of the Quaker Boy Game Calls, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Pro-Staff.

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