Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Day For Thanks . . .

At work the other day I found myself trying to explain to several French colleagues where the history of the tradition of Thanksgiving had started, and what it meant to us folks who were born in America. When I got to the part about how Native Americans had helped the Pilgrims through the first cold winters in what would become Massachussetts, one of them quipped something to the effect of, "yes, and look at how you repaid their kindness." Indeed, indeed, the history of the Native Americans is a long and bitterly sad story. I doubt they are thankful for much on Thanksgiving Day. Thankful to be living on reservations ?
On a lighter note, my good parents near Philadelphia sent me an article this weekend on the subject of Thanksgiving that I'd never heard of before, a delightful piece by Art Buchwald (R.I.P.) about the very subject of Thanksgiving and the French, from the 1950's. Thanks Mom and Dad ! . I sincerely hope I'm not infringing on anyone's copyright here, in any case, it is not for commercial benefit, purely for the edification of a handful of patient and wonderful blog readers. And I'd like to give Thanks to all of you, each and every one, who stop by here from time to time bringing your good cheer and warmth . . .
Explaining Thanksgiving to the French (by Art Buchwald)
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant.
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims (Pélerins) who fled from l'Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World (le Nouveau Monde) where they could shoot Indians (les Peaux-Rouges) and eat turkey (dinde) to their hearts' content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Américaine) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai) in 1620. But while the Pélerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pélerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pélerins was when they taught them to grow corn (mais). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pélerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pélerins' crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mais was raised by the Pélerins than Pélerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.
Every year on le Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilomètres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant:
"Go to the damsel Priscilla (allez tres vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth (la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action (un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.
"I am a maker of war (je suis un fabricant de la guerre) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar (vous, qui êtes pain comme un étudiant), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden."
Although Jean was fit to be tied (convenable à être emballi), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow (rendue muette par l'étonnement et las tristesse).
At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: "If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?" (Où est-il, le vieux Kilomètres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance?)
Jean said that Kilomètres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilomètres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" (Chacun a son gout.)
And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes, and for the only time during the year eat better than the French do. .
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fête and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilomètres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.


Steve said...

Ah. Priscilla, Queen of the Desserts...?

Lena said...

Le jour de Merci Donnant??? LOL!
I just had a great laugh Owen!
Thank you so much for posting this...

Warm hugs from Mexico!

Lydia said...

That is such a great article! Cheers for your parents sending it to you so you could share it with us. Many thanks to you, Owen.

Jess said...

Shame on me Owen, I didn't know what Thanksgiving was, I suppose if pushed, I though it was like our Harvest Festival! Shame on me.

Reb said...

he's great! that made me laugh. good old Kilomètres Deboutish

Stickup Artist said...

What a cool post. Thank you.

I once found myself in a similar position of being asked to explain the Thanksgiving holiday to a group of visiting French in the U.S. It is a humbling, painful task. Americans (present company excluded) tend to gloss over so much in our daily lives. I wonder why that is?

CiCi said...

I don't know if I can agree with the last part of the quote, I don't think there is ever a time the Americans eat better than the French even on Thanksgiving Day. And the sad truth of the Indians land taken away and the disease brought to them is usually hushed up especially around the Thanksgiving holiday.

@eloh said...

Thanks so much for passing this along. It made me smile. It is a rather ridiculous holiday, all things considered.

Whenever asked what I'm thankful for I always say... "That I'm not a Native American at the first Thanksgiving."

Owen said...

Amen @eloh, Amen...


TechnoB, interesting, but then, I think it is at least sometimes possible to say that there are some Americans who eat as well as the French on occasion; for the simple reason that there are some rather good French restaurants in America. (just kidding !)

What really irks me about the Native American story is how we were taught history while growing up in America through grade school and highschool. We received the politically correct version about how savage the Indians were and how they regularly murdered white settlers, and how noble the US Government / Army was while occupying and displacing Native Americans (those that survived the epidemics of European introduced diseases). It was reading "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" that started to open my eyes... and another book that I found by chance called "The Invasion of America : Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest", by Francis Jennings. And other works since...


Hey StickUp Artist, it's not easy to explain such things to foreigners... And as for why such issues tend to be glossed over for the most part ? I would advance the notion that it is perhaps at least partially a case of a major repressed guilt complex spanning generations. Who wants to come to terms with the fact that one of the greatest (meaning biggest) genocides of all times was committed on American soil, by Americans ? I don't think this issue has ever really had any healing process, and the guilt of knowing they are still today effectively caged on reservations is an open sore on the public consciousness. Sad, sad, sad...


Hi Reb, it is a fine piece of writing... Art Buchwald had a wicked sense of humor. Hope all is well in Lille with you and the little ones and their bilingual progress...

Lynne with an e said...

But how does one explain deep-fried turkey to the French? (or to almost anyone else, for that matter)

The Sagittarian said...

Thanks for giving - this post.

Anonymous said...

That is a brilliant article. But Buchwald certainly plays fast and loose with the French language!

Nevine Sultan said...

Owen, that was a hilarious article! It certainly put a lighter spirit on things. As for Thanksgiving, I don't know where to stand. I'm still sorting through my identity. I'm an Egyptian who recently became an American and what on earth? I'm trying to figure myself out. I'm thankful for many things in life and we'll just leave it at that. Why do you always make me think so much, Owen?

Janie said...

Classic Art Buchwald. Love it!

Amy said...

So funny Owen, this brought a smile to my face that was desperately needed today. :D

Thanks for sharing!

henk van es said...

Hi Owen, Thanks for letting Art Buchwald explain what Thanksgiving is about. Overhere we had the same question, you know that is a day for remembrance, but to remember what... Now we know. All the best

PeterParis said...

I believe that the Art Buchwald family will have nothing against the publication of this article here ! ... and our sincere thanks to (the regretted) him and to you for doing so!

Loulou said...

As I am stopping by for a quick hello, I can notice the wonderful "333" as the number of your magical readers! :-)
Héhéhé, funny!

I enjoyed very much your series of day walk in th epark, soooooo nice and powerful! More more more (3 times did you notice?)

Take care,

PS - I'll forward this article re Thanksgiving to a good friend of mine, a French woman married to an American guy, she was able to address the matter with local and foreign people here in Delhi, in order to explain further the tradition!

Owen said...

Steve, certainly, Priscilla was the just dessert, no doubt... but was not just dessert, she was also the main dish...


Lena, Warm hugs from Mexico are always appreciated in these cold northern climes, you have my permission to continue to send as many as you like... You'll have to tell me more about the PhD program you attended, and the thesis you must have presented ?

Hi Lydia, I'm very lucky to have a very nice pair of parents, who are sharp as tacks and read voraciously, often sending me little tidbits that they stumble on...


Jessie, no shame in that, I'm sure there are plenty of holidays around the world that I've never heard of, or couldn't relate the significance of... Americans are often ego-centric in the sense that they think everyone else in the world should be enamoured of American culture. I don't know much about Guy Falkes Day for example, other than something about a few barrels of gunpowder that were to blow up under the parliament ? In the 1600s ?


Lynne ! Honestly ! One does NOT explain deep fried turkey to the French, because one does NOT deep fry turkey under any circumstances ! That would be a crime against culinary integrity, punishable by having to spend years in a turkey coop...
Don't tell me that deep fried turkey is a Canadian concoction ? Oh mon dieu, on est faite !

Dearest Saj, sister of blogging, you are very very welcome, especially as I heard a little bird chirping a song when I got up, that sounded suspiciously like : Happy Birthday to you...tweet tweet tweet, happy birdday to you, happy birthday dear Saj.... is it true ??? Awww, come on, you can tell....


Dedene, well, I guess when you get as popular as Art B. did fairly quickly, you can play fast and loose with French, or any other language for that matter... Kilometres Deboutish indeed !

Harnett-Hargrove said...

Oh, this is so very good!
Told in just the way the French would have it! -Jayne

Owen said...

Dear Nevine, I was wondering where you might be from, but might have taken a long time before I guessed from Egypt. But yes, I see it now, I think you must be a direct descendant of Queen Nefertiti, hence explaining your magical visions, and the ability to tap into secret sources of power when writing, yes, it makes more sense now. Good luck in figuring out the identity questions... and it's not me that makes you think, it is your lovely inquisitive mind that questions all that you see... So, an Egyptian royal descendant displaced to Texas... the plot thickens...

Hi Janie, ah, so you are a Buchwald fan perhaps... something to chuckle about while out riding those beautiful high mountain trails you seem to have an affinity for... you are so LUCKY ! I wish there were some mountains around Paris !


Hi Amy, am happy if that brought a needed smile... some days need more than others...


Hi Henk, glad I could help fill in a small missing piece of foreign culture there... here in France I had alot of people asking me what it was about, this giving of thanks, the merci donnant... Your post about the German guy in Spain is just extraordinary ! I give thanks to you for that...


Hi Peter, yeah, I agree, this story needs to be circulated, it is a wonderful piece...


Loulou ! Dear Loulou ! Chère Loulou, Voilà, three times Loulou, ooops, that's a fourth one, but that's ok, one cannot have too many Loulou's in a paragraphe... and I noticed you said héhéhé, which is three times "hé"... Ah, the magical 3, which is an 8 with a bite take out of it... And there were three parts to the walk in the park (with you in mind, of course)... am very happy if you enjoyed that, we are getting into the short gray days of December now... today being typical. The moon was full last night, but I couldn't see it due to the cloud cover... Am very happy if you have some friends that might enjoy this Turkey story... So, very happy holidays to all of you... see you soon...


Owen said...

Hi H-H, ahh, glad you enjoyed, this does de-mystify things a bit, yes? I'd give thanks too for Priscilla's eternal happiness...

SP said...

Hey Owen, thanks for dropping by again. Have been quiet on the blog front, it's been enough to keep taking pics at the moment. My Mum passing away hit me hard and a promotion at work has kept me busy, life is full of these ups and downs sometimes, isn't it? Hope life is treating you fine and you enjoyed Thanksgiving?

Lynne with an e said...

BrOwen, don't try to pass off that deep-fried monstrosity as a Canadian concoction! I've only just recently heard of it. My other brother, on a recent trip to California/Nevada to visit family friends on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, experienced not only a traditional dinner with a 21 pound turkey, but a 16 pound deep-fried one as well--at the same meal! I'm just surprised it wasn't enrobed with Kraft cheese slices and bacon! Would you like fries with that?

Marie K. said...

Hi Owen.
A friend of mine adviced me to go and read your blog and explanations about the "jour de Merci Donnant" (I am French and yet I have never heard this phrase before. We do say : jour de Thanksgiving.) But your telling is full of humour and I've seen that you appreciated new comments. Here is mine.
Thanks for your willing at restoring the "true" story and background!!!

French Fancy... said...

It's so funny - *known in France as Kilomètres Deboutish* -

By the way I had no idea you were American

Plum' said...

Bonsoir Owen,
J'ai bien aimé cette version de Thanksgiving !
Chez nous, à Lyon, nous avons également un jour pour dire "Merci". Il s'agit du 8 décembre (c'est tout bientôt !), commémoration pour les lyonnais du jour où ils furent sauvés de la peste grâce à leurs prières à la Vierge Marie.
A cette occasion, des petites bougies (lumignons) sont allumées la nuit tombée sur le rebord des fenêtres et un festival des lumières est organisé pendant quelques jours. Voici un aperçu (enjoy!)
On peut ne pas être croyant et apprécier malgré tout la créativité des artistes qui se creusent véritablement la cervelle chaque année pour nous offrir des créations incroyables.

Owen said...

Hey SP !

First, please accept my most profound condolences. I cannot begin to imagine.

Second, congratulations on receiving a promotion, which I hope is a very positive change, and with a salary bump that will allow you to invest in more photography gear, so you can keep your wonderful photos coming. Indeed there are many ups and downs in this crazy world, one never knows what to expect on any given day... in any case, great to hear from you, take care...


Lynne, too much ! I should have guessed that deep fried turkey would be an American thing... well, I guess you could even call me a deep fried turkey ! And yes, I'd like fries and a couple of corndogs with that deep fried turkey...

Bonjour Maryh K., bienvenue... greetings and welcome, thanks for stopping by, and I'm very glad someone referred you to my little blog here, and that you enjoyed the story about Thanksgiving... Just to be sure, I'd like to emphasize that the story was written by Art Buchwald, I only borrowed it here for the pleasure of french & american friends. Come back soon, I'll be off to look at your blogs... And thank you to whomever might have sent you over to look here...


Hi FF, glad you like Monsieur Deboutish... and yes, I do have some faults, but I'm also a French citizen today as well... and an adopted Breton at heart...


Bonsoir K'line !
Ah, maintenant je comprends mieux ce qui est derrière l'histoire de la fête de la lumière à Lyon... J'avais déjà entendu parlé de cette fête, mais n'ai pas encore eu l'occasion d'y assister. Un jour peut-être, bien que début décembre est une période difficile au boulot, pas évident de s'absenter, même le temps d'un weekend... mais bon, avec deux beaux-frères et une belle-soeur à Lyon, peut-être j'y arriverais un jour... Merci bcp pour le lien, je vais aller regarder ces photos, je sais qu'il y a de très belles choses qui se passent, Fourvière en plein projecteur, des lumières de toutes les couleurs sur le Rhone et la Saone... ahh oui, quelle belle ville tu habites, si tu es dans Lyon, ou tout près... Et heureusement qu'il y avaient quelques survivants de la peste, peut-être parmi tes ancètres, car sinon, pas de K'line pour nous ravir avec son esprit parfumé de beauté... Merci donnant à la Peste donc d'avoir épargné quelques aieuls... (et j'espère que la grippe porcine sera aussi gentille avec nous tous...)
Amitiés, Bizoux,... et à bientôt...

:: Karine :: said...

j'ai mis un peu de temps mais j'ai lu tes explications sur tahnksgiving to the french (donc je me le davsi hein !) et j'ai appris plein de choses :-)
merci d'être là, d'exister cher owen adoré !
très belle nuit toute douce

Marie K. said...

hello Owen,

Thanks for your answer. You're very kind. I'll thank my friend too. I've got another blog, using another google account.
It's oilandwatercolour.blogspot.com

have a look if you have a moment and if you feel some interest in paintings. another way to communicate.
I'll come again at yours very soon. Be sure of that.

Have a good night. Marie K.