The astonishing history of our family's Thanksgiving Holidays.
But first — the Pilgrims celebrated the event that Americans call the "First Thanksgiving" after their beginning harvest in the New World in October 1621. The guest included ninety Wampanoag Native American people, and fifty-three Pilgrims (the last survivors of the Mayflower), according to Wikipedia.
There was an earlier Thanksgiving celebration in 1619 by English settlers who had just landed at Berkeley Hundred in Virginia. The ensuing debate about where the first Thanksgiving was celebrated was resolved in President John F. Kennedy's Proclamation 3560, on November 5, 1963, stating that Virginia AND Massachusetts are credited with the first Thanksgiving celebration.
My family celebrated our first Thanksgiving in 1898 on the S.S. Scotia, the ship that carried this large family to America from Antwerp, Belgium. The family had made their way by train from now named Slovakia but once part of Hungary, from a town called Vranov on the Toplou River, where they had lived for who knows how long.
On the same day the S.S.Scotia arrived, Admiral John Dewey arrived and brought many reporters and camerapeople. One of these reporters became intrigued with such a large family, mine — because they came with so many children. My Great Grand Mother was pregnant with her twelfth child, and among the other children was my grandmother, a fourteen-year-old. The reporter wrote an article about them (with many errors), and the article and picture appeared in the February 1899 issue of Metropolitan Magazine.
So, Thanksgiving celebrations became so crucial in our family's history because it was the day the S.S.Scotia arrived in New York Harbor. The Moscowitz clan was genuinely thankful for having come here safely and intact.
Growing up, my father and mother took us downtown to attend the Macy's Parade. My mother usually made the turkey which we transported to Uncle Dan and Aunt Rose's house in New Jersey. To accomplish this and to get to the parade, mom had to put the turkey in the oven at 3:00 AM. That gave it enough time to be thoroughly cooked and cooled enough to get it into the car. Her resourcefulness paid off, but she complained or, in other words, bragged about it for months.
We would joyfully stand at a curb for hours to watch the parade go by and marvel at the floating overhead, giant balloons, and their handlers on the ground. Many High School bands participated in this fabulous parade, wearing gorgeous uniforms and waving hand-held flags as they do today.
The feast of Thanksgiving consists of foods mostly native to America. Mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, squash, Brussel Sprouts, and Pumpkin Pie originated on this side of the Atlantic. All these American foods were introduced as a new cuisine to the Europeans when they arrived here. While the turkey is native to the Americas, it became known and bred in Europe before America became populated by the early settlers.
Americans consume more food on Thanksgiving day than on any other day. No surprise there. This feast can deliver 3000–4000 calories. On Thanksgiving, no one worries about their waistline.
Years later, after I returned from Providence, I took over the Thanksgiving Day party. My cousins and I divided up the holidays. One prepared Rosh Hashonah dinner, another the breaking of the fast on Yom Kippur, and another, the Passover Seder. Thanksgiving was always my holiday. We continued that arrangement for years —like Tevya's traditions, this was our family's version.
One year, three days before this holiday, I fell on the sidewalk and broke my left arm. I expected about twenty people for the celebration and thought I might have to cancel it. However, the day was saved by my daughter's stepping up to take over the party. The only thing left for me to do was make the turkey stuffing. Being a macho person, I set to do it.
Since I had broken my left humerus near my shoulder, my cast was placed above my elbow down to my mid palm. My fingers were available, but my arm bent upward, placing my left fingers right near my face. My cast was lined with a cotton cloth for comfort, and my arm was in a sling.
The stuffing required chopping onions. No problem. I held the onion with my left hand and cut the onion with my right. I didn't realize that the juice from the onion would saturate the cotton lining of my cast. Since the position of my left hand was fixed, the raw onions were held directly under my nose, and the smell of raw onions was so overpowering I was frantic about what to do.
Carefully I tore away the cotton lining of my cast and resorted to using a knitting needle when I could longer reach inside with the fingers of my right hand. The stuffing was delicious despite my smelling onion for several days.
My turkey preparation was not too reliable. I tried every method to keep it from becoming too dry to eat, and my usual result. Using a large plastic bag made for roasting turkeys was the best solution. In it, the turkey bastes itself, and the turkey meat comes out moist, with a lovely brown, shiny coating.
This year we had a fabulous feast at a relative's new home in Syosset, NY. The food preparation looked gorgeous, pepperoni slices arranged in the shape of roses, all kinds of other salamis, an array of cheese, and a piled-high platter of cut-up raw veggies, including jicama. And that was just for starters. The main meal was lavish, offering not only turkey but sliced brisket and salmon, plus all the side dishes. Desserts were all kinds of pies; my favorite is always Pumpkin Pie and a large platter of fresh fruit, artfully arranged.
I still feel attached to the Thanksgiving Day party and appreciate being included in other people’s parties, even though I’m no longer the maker.