Calvin Trillin—the journalist and humorist who refers to his daughter as “the tiny deflator”—has argued that there was a fundamental misunderstanding at Plymouth in 1621 when the pilgrims, having survived a year, enjoyed a thanksgiving dinner with their local neighbors. The misunderstanding claims that they ate turkey. In reality, it was the Indians who, rather disappointed by the table manners of the pilgrims, left the feast muttering “those turkeys.” Knowing the pilgrims were lousy cooks, the Indians had brought along spaghetti carbonara.
This, Trillin maintains, was and should be what we eat on Thanksgiving. He launched his campaign to change our national holiday meal in the 1980s. As far as I know, I am the only person to have followed it (and so far I have done so only when I am dining out).
If you have tried thirty-five different ways to cook that recalcitrant bird, the turkey, maybe you too should embrace spaghetti carbonara on Thanksgiving?
My first rector, Fr. Michael Webber in Wappingers Falls, New York, said that if the government was going to ask us to have a day of thanksgiving, he was all in. We had a sung communion service every Thanksgiving Day at 10 a.m. To encourage attendance, he would say: “Turkeys taste better after church.”
I was never sure whether he meant the birds or our dearly beloveds.
The Austin household fell into a pattern that lasted a couple of decades. After church (being a good curate, I continued Fr. Webber’s tradition when I became a rector, including the line about “taste better”) we would go to the home of some friends and about three families would join together for the feast. Susan never met a cranberry sauce recipe she didn’t want to try, so we would bring about four different versions. She also never met a pie she could do without, the result being that although our group was, tops, fifteen people, we would have at least seven different varieties of pie.
Yes, there was also turkey. I hadn’t read Calvin Trillin yet.
Have I mentioned before that I like the King James Version? Back then I had yet to make its acquaintance, but thanks to the KJV one mystery of Thanksgiving has been solved. Among Susan’s required pies was one called mincemeat, and I had often wondered what meat was in it. “Mincemeat” comes in a jar and could easily include bits of pig or cow, it seemed to me.
Wrong. In the KJV, I have learned, “meat” just means “food.” At Genesis 1:29, for instance, God tells the first people that their “meat” is the fruit on the trees. Mincemeat is basically chopped up fruit.
Another mystery of life (and of Thanksgiving) solved.
It is the first ethical task facing a human being: to give thanks for what is. Before you notice what’s wrong, and certainly before you try to change anything, you give thanks. This coming week, remember to give God thanks for government, for your nation, your state, your city. Despite the tensions around such things, “in all times and in all places” we should first of all give thanks.
Out & About. Sunday, Nov. 29, at 3 p.m., Deacon Trent Pettit is to be ordained a priest at St. Philip’s Church in Sulphur Springs, Texas—the center of the diocese of Dallas! I am to preach. It will be outdoors (bring a lawn chair) and everyone is welcome.
On the Web. My sermon on “Render unto Caesar” is an effort to give, in a nutshell, Christian political theology: how we should understand our place in the various polities (cities, nations, neighborhoods). You can here the sermon here: https://incarnation.org/worship/sermons/#speakers=victor-lee-austin . The Brancacci chapel can be seen in Florence (and let me know if you’re going and need a chaplain!); an image of the scene I reference in my sermon is here: https://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/917/flashcards/1702917/jpg/21181346808522555.jpg
Happy Thanksgiving—my next blog post will be in two weeks, i.e. early December.