Eric Douglas: Eating turkey isn't a 400-year-old tradition

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A couple months ago, I wrote a column about Columbus Day and discussed some of the myths we all learned in elementary school about Christopher Columbus. There are a lot of situations like that where there is a big difference between what we all “know” and reality.

For example, eating turkey for Thanksgiving is a tradition leading all the way back to first pilgrims and the settlement at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, right?

Not really. There is some evidence that ate some sort of fowl (turkey, goose, duck, pheasant) at that first dinner between the settlers and the Wampanoag Indians, but more likely the main meal was venison.

In 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale was the editor of the magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book. She is the one who successfully lobbied President Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a holiday on the fourth Thursday of November.

In her magazine, she published recipes for turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie and that’s where that tradition came from. So, it’s been around a long time, but not quite all the way back to Plymouth Rock.

I’ve written about this before, but I am continually amazed that in the middle of the Civil War that the president even considered creating a national holiday – especially one dedicated to giving thanks. Everything I’ve read says Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward felt it was appropriate as a way to help heal the nation, even before the war ended.

An interesting Thanksgiving tidbit is that in 1939 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday to increase the shopping time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There was such an outcry, two years later it was moved back. So, it seems the retail world and the holidays have been intertwined for a long time.

Regardless of what we learned and where traditions came from, we still need a holiday like Thanksgiving. It helps us focus and, for a day at least, remember the things we have and are thankful for. I know I am thankful for my family and friends (some of which are more like family at this point).

I don’t believe the troubles we currently face come anywhere close to the problems of 1863, but maybe taking the time to remember all the good things in our lives will put those troubles in perspective.

If you’re interested in reading Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving, you can find it online at Abraham Lincoln Online. (

Eric Douglas, of Pinch, is the author of “Return to Cayman,” “Heart of the Maya,” “Cayman Cowboys,” “River Town” and other novels. He is also a columnist for Scuba Diving Magazine and a former Charleston Newspapers Metro staff writer. For more information, visit or contact him at

Funerals for Saturday, December 7, 2019

Blackshire, Judith - 11 a.m., Sunset Memorial Park, Charleston.

Breckenridge, Robert - 2 p.m., Emmanuel Tabernacle Baptist Church, Page Hill.

Butler, Larry - Noon, Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.

Byers, David - 6 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Cincinnati, Freda -11:30 a.m., Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Montgomery.

Colby III, Ronald - 11 a.m., Alban Arts Center, St. Albans.

Fetty, Julia - 2:30 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Findley, Reva - 3 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane,

Fletcher, Christopher - Noon, First Baptist Church, St. Albans.

Griffith, Martha - 1 p.m., Forks of Coal Baptist Church Cemetery, Alum Creek.

Harris, Mark - Noon, Simpson Memorial United Methodist Church, Charleston.

Harris, Roy - 1 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Hinkle, Virginia - 5 p.m., Cooke Funeral Home Chapel, Cedar Grove.

Holland, William - 4 p.m., Dunbar First Church of God, Dunbar.

James, Susan - 1 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Lokant, Raymond - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home Chapel, Oak Hill.

Moores, Patricia - 11:30 a.m., Pineview Cemetery, Orgas.

Morrison, William - Noon, Stockert-Paletti Funeral Home, Flatwoods.

Porterfield, Keven - 3 p.m., Old Faith Community Church, Sissonville.

Settle, Donald - 7 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Starcher, James - 1 p.m., Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.

Stevens, Olyn - 1 p.m., Elk Funeral Home, Charleston.

Summers, Rosalie - 11 a.m., St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Charleston.

Taylor, Edward - 10 a.m., Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Charleston.

Vance, Brian - 10 a.m., Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Charleston.