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It's almost impossible to overstate how much better Thanksgiving is now than it was when it was invented, back in 1621, by the pilgrims.

Practically everything we associate with the annual November feast that we all like to enjoy before waddling into the living room to loosen our pants and watch football has evolved in very recent times.

For starters, the meal itself is way better now than it was when members of the Plymouth Colony got together with the local Wampanoag Indians.

There was no pumpkin pie and no mashed potatoes, I have learned after a few minutes research on the Internet. In fact, they didn't have ovens to make pies or cakes or bread. I'm not sure how they remained thankful with such a severe carbohydrate shortage in their diets.

They didn't eat much in the way of vegetables, either, which of course wouldn't bother me, being a hater of most vegetables except for green beans, pickles, olives and celery (if it's got cream cheese smeared on it).

But the revelation that they maybe didn't even have turkey was so shocking to me you could have knocked me over with a, well, a turkey feather.

OK, they probably did have venison (which is very good if the meat is properly cared for in the beginning) and wild fowl, which also could have been tasty if done right.

But wait, there's more. The pilgrims didn't have forks.

Who knew, right?

We are told, by an expert on history at, that, 'They ate with spoons, knives and their fingers.'


You know what else they didn't use in the days of the pilgrims? Plates. No, really.

And they went about eating the food in a way that seems unusual to us today.

'Serving in the 17th century was very different from serving today,' continues the explanation, which credits food historian Kathleen Curtin for its insights. 'People weren't served their meals individually. Foods were served onto the table and then people took the food from the table and ate it.'

That sounds kind of like many families today, huh? You grab some stuff and run in the other room to eat it in front of the TV or the computer or whatever.

They did have a custom that I like very much, though.

'In a pilgrim household, the adults sat down to eat and the children and servants waited on them.'

I'll concede that this has more appeal once you reach a certain age and no longer have to sit at the kids' table in the other room.

Oh yeah, they didn't call it Thanksgiving, either. Originally, it was more of a harvest festival and probably much earlier in the fall - more in keeping with the other kinds of harvest festivals that have been going on for centuries among the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, the Hebrews and the Egyptians.

This being the United States of America, though, we couldn't help but politicize it. George Washington was the first to declare it a holiday, in 1789 - a whopping 168 years after the Pilgrims and Indians decided to dine together. And it was in October back then.

'In 1939, 1940 and 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt, seeking to lengthen the Christmas shopping season, proclaimed Thanksgiving the third Thursday in November,' says the explanation on They don't mention if FDR also invented Black Friday. 'Controversy followed, and Congress passed a joint resolution in 1941 decreeing that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday of November, where it remains.'

As we draw nearer to this Thanksgiving, I have to admit I wasn't finding that much to be thankful for. Oh, sure, I could say I'm thankful that, when I fell off the roof this summer and broke a number of bones, it didn't kill me or even leave me paralyzed. But really, if I had my druthers, I think I'd just as soon skip that whole episode if I could.

But it's also true that there's always a certain amount of bad stuff simmering away beneath the surface of life. And, being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I now realize I have plenty to be thankful for.

Like forks and plates. You've got to be thankful for that.

And turkey, mashed potatoes and bread.

But most of all, I must admit, I'm thankful that we have pie. Sweet, beautiful pie.

Former editor of the Lake Oswego Review and former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections for Community Newspapers and contributes a regular column.

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