At this time of year my most sincere thanks are aimed at the readers who peek into this corner of the paper on a regular basis, hoping to get (but, I know, not always getting) a peculiar slant on the world around them.
I should thank especially the readers who view the world through their own askance view and share their insight with me. Example: The astute reader (who prefers to remain anonymous) who predicted the return of Alex Rodriguez to New York at the moment when Yankee fans were in the greatest depth of despair (see my clairvoyant column of November 7).
Then there is the young lady (well, younger than me) who lured me into the heart of Boston Red Sox territory during the American League playoffs to experience a slice of 17th century colonial life. I will thank her because I am about to parlay that trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts, and to the historically correct Plimouth Plantation (their spelling) into the best thanks I can give all of you — a Thanksgiving Day trivia game, to be played when the conversation has gone as bland as the old as commentary on not one or two but three professional football games that will be blaring in the background.
Q.) We’ll start the trivia game with a few classics: What year was the first Thanksgiving celebrated?
A.) Not 1621, when the Pilgrims celebrated but two years before in Jamestown, Virginia. There’s no reference to that event in Plymouth or Plimouth.
Q.) Why did the Pilgrims come to America?
A.) To escape religious persecution is the standard answer that we all remember from grade school history. In fact, of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower voyage, fewer than half were seeking freedom from the yoke of the Church of England. The rest were partners in an ambitious business venture in which the payoff would be ownership of land — something they could never achieve in aristocratic England.
As the historic reenactors of Plimouth Plantation make clear in their authentic, early 17th century speech, the values of the religious pilgrims and the entrepreneurial ones did not always mesh. As one of the latter told me: “Why would anyone want religious freedom — it gives all sorts of crazy people the right to do whatever they please.”
Q.) How many passengers was the Mayflower designed to carry?
A.) Zero. If you go to Plimouth Plantation set aside a few hours to visit the Mayflower II, the now 50-year-old replica of the cargo ship that hauled the Pilgrims and their animals across the ocean.
As you walk the decks and area below deck, ponder the circumstances of the seven months that the Pilgrims spent on board the ship during the voyage and while the ship was moored in the bay through the winter of 1621 as they attempted to find a location suitable for settlement. (They had originally set out for the Hudson River to the south but ended up off course in the colder waters to the north.
Of the original 102 passengers only 53 remained alive by the time of the feast in November of 1621.
Q.) How big is Plymouth Rock?
A.) If you first visited the rock as an elementary school student, as I did, you will recall a boulder that would fill a room, that a dinghy could sail up against and be tied to. In fact the rock on display at Plymouth Harbor would fit on your desk.
Q.) Which bright Englishman — or woman? — was able to establish oral communication with the native Americans?
A.) All of them. While none of the English could speak any of the tribal languages, several “Indians” — Squanto is most famous — were able to speak English, thanks to their travels with earlier traders who took the natives back to England with them.
Q.) To this day in the region around Plymouth, natives gather in autumnal ceremonies, faces often painted in red, and chant in unison, aided by ample amounts of “firewater.” What nation do they represent?
A.) Red Sox nation. (Yes, that was a trick question.)
Q.) When the Pilgrims finally sat down to the meal that became the basis of our modern Thanksgiving, what item was not on the menu — turkey, venison, pumpkin pie, or pudding from native corn?
A.) With no flour or sugar, a pie of any sort would have been impossible. Stewed pumpkin, eaten as you would a turnip or brussel sprout, was more likely. The folks at the plantation offer a “Victorian Thanksgiving” dinner on Thanksgiving and the day after, and also a “Dine with the Pilgrims” experience on weekends in October and November. There’s a big difference in the two menus.
Q.) What utensil was not on the table?
A.) The Pilgrims didn’t use forks. As one role player said, forks are used for throwing hay and manure — who would want one at the dinner table?
Q.) Who proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving Day?
A.) Not George Washington, who proclaimed the first official Thanksgiving Day in 1789. Not Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863 made the last Thursday in November the official day. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 who proclaimed the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving.
So if you bemoan the extra week of Christmas shopping that we must endure this year because of the five Thursdays in the month, then blame FDR but not me — thank you very much.