Example OF Report On Culture: A Thanksgiving Cultural Traditions Report
The delicious sights of bright oranges, yellow, and red colors of foods can be very sexy. The aroma of good foods deeply affects our senses, especially when we taste their fantastic flavors. However, cultural traditions in foods can sometimes have symbolic meanings. If you were raised as an American, then the traditional Thanksgiving meal and holiday season are quite familiar. But not everyone observes the holiday meal tradition, which identifies special historical origins and a representative symbolism. Learning about the historical background, and cultural context of the practices and ceremonies associated with the traditional American holiday meal, is what this report is all about. This discussion will attempt to show how the traditional Thanksgiving meal historically appropriates symbolism to American culture, and which practices have persisted until today.
If a person stepped into the United States during the late November holiday season, just prior to Christmas he or she might notice a flurry of activity. While it is true that too many television commercials prompt people to buy a hundred different things, anticipation of family togetherness lays heavy on the hearts and minds. Gambino (2011) lists the main kinds of foods displayed at Thanksgiving as: “turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams,” and more (“On the Menu at the First Thanksgiving”). However, historians agree that the first Thanksgiving served a simpler menu such as corn, a form of bread, grain porridge, and perhaps meat of wild fowl. The background and historical setting of the American Thanksgiving meal tradition, only has two primary historical references. Gambino (2011) said that one source found is a letter written from the Pilgrim camp, at Plymouth in 1621, by an Englishman named Edward Winslow. He wrote, “Our harvest being gotten inthat so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our laborsmany of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted”(“On the Menu at the First Thanksgiving”). The same article reveals that William Bradford, the governor, had commented upon the feast foods of many wild turkeys and waterfowl, with venison and Indian corn or ‘maize.’ Some historians believe that a duck or goose may have been the centerpiece of the meal – not the turkey, as Thanksgiving is celebrated today.
One article appearing in Smithsonian Institution records, tells that Thanksgiving is uniquely American and a holiday that has evolved to bring a rich cultural mix of the Pilgrim whites, native and black peoples food symbolisms together. The article states that just the idea of ‘Thanksgiving’ evokes images of reuniting with loved ones and family in the spirit of goodwill. Originally, the Thanksgiving commemorative celebration feast, gave the Pilgrim a chance to thank God and celebrate “His bounty” because they had strong beliefs in the “Christian faith,” and therefore was “a joyous outpouring of gratitude” (“Thanksgiving History Plimoth Plantation”). The traditional time of year can be explained by a celebration of a good harvest, and Thanksgiving was never allowed to fall on a Sunday. So it was like having a true holiday, and an extra day that was worthy of celebration. At this point, it is important to describe something about the different types of foods traditionally served at the Thanksgiving meal. Turkey has always been a traditional mainstay of the celebratory feast, but there myriad side dishes grace the symbolic and festive holiday meal, too.
What some folks refer to as ‘stuffing’ others call ‘dressing’ but they are basically the same kind of food. In quoting Bertelsen, Pappas (2013) states that certain Thanksgiving sides “associated the meal” from the start, so “stuffing poultry with bread chunks dates back to Roman times,” which naturally coupled with the cranberries and pumpkin crops that were ripe during the fall’s harvest (“History of Plenty”). Potatoes were a favorite of all people, so mashed potatoes or yams (sweet potatoes) became inseparable into the Thanksgiving meal. The magnificent Southern tradition, heavily influenced by African-American culture of former captive slaves, brought cornbread stuffing (rightly called dressing) to the Thanksgiving diet, and “sweet potatoes were one of the many root crops that were a staple in the West Indies” (“History of Plenty”). The ‘candied yams’ derives from the sweet-potato tradition, wherein the slaves in the West Indies would labor in sugarcane production. Traditionally, they let the sugar boil, reducing it down to molasses, and later making rum. Pouring the boiling sugar over the sweet potato dish, the marvelously delicious ‘candied-yams’ dish was born. This represents one of the favorite parts of the Thanksgiving holiday, which symbolized deep roots of pride, family, and in the spirit of human compassion and charity. Black folks and Southerners take particular pride in creating gourmet-level sweet potato pies, and dressing. The African-American tradition holds the most amazing dressing anyone has ever tasted, and cannot be easily duplicated. One observer said that the “enslaved Africans,” would “mash up day-old cornbread with pepper, salt and herbs” that resulted in something that people adored (“History of Plenty”). Other dishes besides cornbread dressing include green bean casserole, cranberries, puddings, and pumpkin pie. Ambrosia, a citrus-fruit salad from the South popularized the Thanksgiving holiday meal to accompany even more: biscuits with real butter (not fake margarine), a variety of cheesy vegetable casseroles, and a host of cakes – like German chocolate, or coconut.
Not much is really known about that first Thanksgiving harvest meal during 1621 in Plymouth. The history is sketchy. But apparently its practice sustained a traditional symbolism that inspired people to remember the importance of having gratitude, and a warmth towards all their fellow human beings. The foods represent taking special care in preparation, creation, and serving in a beautiful table setting done with the attitude of sharing with friends or family. Strangers may also be invited to Thanksgiving dinner meals, because the practice symbolizes generosity and sharing among friends in the spirit of peace. One beautiful thing about the Thanksgiving cultural tradition, is that all the various foods represented reflect on a combination of all the historical cultures from early America. For example, the colonial New Englanders may have contributed their specialties of mince and apple pies, while the Native peoples famously contributed corn and maize-based dishes, with the early African captives brought to North America contributing brilliant recipes of sweet potato candied ‘yams.’ Southerners take particular pride in their pecan pies, as the pecan trees grow in places of the Deep South – such as Mississippi.
Two main elements make the symbolic tradition of Thanksgiving very special. First, the foods represent everyone’s style and contribution to ways of enjoying a commemorative feast. Secondly, the spirit of grace and gratitude touched the hearts of people all over America whether they were black or white, slave or free, or indigenous people. It was a solemn occasion to sit down at the Thanksgiving table. And it is so today. The traditional pattern of consuming the Thanksgiving meal normally is done by family members. To be invited to someone’s personal home, therefore, for a Thanksgiving meal represents a great honor. When a person invites you to their home for Thanksgiving, the event is not to be taken lightly. Held in high esteem, the traditional culture and symbolism of the foods (and gathering) so represented is almost a prayerful, sacred moment. Usually, the television is turned down or off completely. The family, loved ones, and invited guests gather around the table, and take their seats. Once in their places, protocol dictates that one person (traditionally, the man or head of the house) says a prayer of special thanks. Sometimes, each person from their place at the table, may take a turn to briefly name what he or she is thankful for. These are not hard-and-fast rules about the Thanksgiving supper, but generally displays the table manners that accompany the meal’s process. Football games top off the celebratory tradition, wherein many men either attend sporting events or watch the live stadium games from their homes.
One amazing fact about the Thanksgiving cultural food tradition celebration is that the government did not originally establish the practice. People just loved to keep the tradition, and it became so revered and appreciated that on September 28, 1789 “the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the President of the United States recommend to the nation a day of thanksgiving” (“Congress Establishes”). Apparently President George Washington must have liked the idea so he issued a national proclamation, declaring Thursday to be a public day of thanksgiving. To even out where Thursday fell on the calendar, and to dissipate any confusion, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the celebratory date to November’s last Thursday in 1939. By 1941, legally Congress decided to fix the date once-and-for-all “amending the resolution” and establishing Thanksgiving Day as a national Federal holiday (“Congress Establishes”). Not all people eat meat during Thanksgiving, especially since many people are vegetarians. In ‘Vegetarian Times’ meat alternatives for the festive, holiday traditional Thanksgiving meal includes rich menu choices such as: Minestrone Butternut Squash Soup with Fresh Corn, or Lentils.
In conclusion, there has always been a little mystery surrounding a certain traditional Thanksgiving food, and often asked: What is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? True yams as relatives of grasses and lilies come from Africa and Asia, normally starchier than sweet potatoes, coming in “600 varieties” (“Mysteries Fun Science”). Sweet potatoes range in color from white, to yellow, to dark orange or reddish from the “morning glory family, Convolvulacea,” and when cooked the firm ones stay firm, while the soft kind turns mushy (“Mysteries Fun Science”). The confusion came because in the United States, the African captives “had already been calling the ‘soft’ sweet potatoes ‘yams’ because they resembled the yams in Africa,” so as the softer kind were commercially grown the names became interchangeable among the people (“Mysteries Fun Science”). Even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture labels both terms (‘yams’ and ‘sweet potatoes’) to accompany the food, most people still do not understand the difference. Go figure. Happy Thanksgiving!
Gambino, M. (November, 2011). What was on the menu at the first Thanksgiving?.
Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-was-on-the-menu-at-the-first-thanksgiving-511554/
Library of Congress. (2015). Everyday mysteries – fun science facts from the Library of
Congress [Data file]. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/sweetpotato.html
National Archives – The Center for Legislative Archives. (2015). Congress establishes
Thanksgiving [Data file]. Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/legislative/features/thanksgiving/
Pappas, S. (November 25, 2013). History of plenty: How the Thanksgiving menu evolved.
LiveScience. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/41496-history-thanksgiving-menu-dishes.html
Smithsonian Institution – Plimoth Plantation. (2015). Thanksgiving history [Data file]. Retrieved
What’s your favorite family food tradition at Thanksgiving?. (2013). Vegetarian Times, (407),
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