Thanksgiving is the second-most popular American holiday. It’s a day of thanks, filled with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, corn, and pumpkin and apple pies—the works! It is a wonderful feast to be enjoyed, often followed by the Thanksgiving nap. What makes you so sleepy? Some people blame the bird, and the tryptophan myth continues to circulate. After all, on Seinfeld, didn’t Jerry ply his date with turkey and wine so she would sleep and he could play with her toy collection? Yes, turkey does contain L-tryptophan, which can be metabolized into serotonin and melatonin, the neurotransmitters that regulate sleep. But L-tryptophan would need to be taken on an empty stomach and without any other proteins or amino acids to achieve a drowsy feeling. Also, you would need to eat more than 10 servings of turkey for tryptophan to be the culprit. So then, why do we get tired after the Thanksgiving meal? It’s more likely the alcohol, overeating, lengthy conversations, and the murmur of the football game on TV. It also gets you out of having to help clean up.

The first Thanksgiving was a 3-day feast of the harvest celebrated by the Pilgrims. Their Native American neighbors happened upon them and took part in the hunting and in the party. They ate fowl, deer, wild turkeys, fish, corn, onions, and squash. Historians dispute whether or not the first Thanksgiving was actually an embracing cross-cultural event. Native American historians cite the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock as the beginning of the end. The Pilgrims brought with them diseases (such as small pox) that the indigenous people had never been exposed to, and therefore had no immunity or tolerance. However, there are 2 written accounts of the celebration in 1621 that cite the 2 cultures did come together across the 3-day period.

Thanksgiving didn’t take off as an annual event with a universally accepted date. There were sporadic celebrations, usually in the fall, for harvests in the good years. It wasn’t until 1789 that George Washington announced the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. Even then it wasn’t widely accepted or acknowledged. There were politicians who were opposed to the idea, including Thomas Jefferson. However, Sarah Josepha Hale, a women’s magazine editor in Boston, made it her personal mission (and probably obsession) to see that Thanksgiving had a proper place on the American calendar and table. She spent some 40 years lobbying the point, writing editorials and sending letters to governors and presidents. Finally in 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. Presidents after Lincoln followed suit, though the date changed a few times. Congress finally gave its blessing in 1941, with an official date of the last Thursday in November.

Most Thanksgiving traditions revolve around food, but it’s not only turkeys that get sacrificed during the holiday. A more modern ritual is “the turkey drop,” as a lot of high school relationships will come to an end due to college freshman, who after having formed new relationships while away at school, realize that they don’t enjoy long-distance romances, and want to end them before the holiday season gets into full swing.


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Another newer, and more fun, tradition is the parades, the most popular being the one sponsored by Macy’s in New York City. For those who are up to the challenge, there’s always shopping on Black Friday, which is really encroaching on Thursday, and the alternate, gaining popularity every year, Cyber Monday. Thanksgiving is right between 2 huge holidays, Halloween and Christmas, and each year it feels like the holiday gets less attention. Stores go from Halloween costumes to jingle bells the next day.

Thanksgiving is an important holiday. It gives us reason to pause and appreciate life. In keeping with the intended spirit of Thanksgiving, count your blessings and take notice of the simple things that we should be grateful for and typically ignore. Then eat your turkey and thank everything else for the lethargy, and really enjoy that nap!

Reference

  1. A brief history of Thanksgiving. History of Thanksgiving Web site. http://historyofthanksgiving.net/.
  2. The first Thanksgiving. Hardy Diagnostics Web site. http://hardydiagnostics.com/articles/The-First-Thanksgiving.pdf.
  3. Helmenstine AM. Does eating turkey make you sleepy? About.com. http://chemistry.about.com/od/holidaysseasons/a/tiredturkey.htm.
  4. Putt G. Thanksgiving: American myth and ritual surrounding ‘Turkey Day.’ Decoded Science Web site. November 19, 2013. http://www.decodedscience.com/thanksgiving-american-myth-ritual/39473.
  5. Schiffman R. The truth about thanksgiving: what they never taught you in school. Huffington Post. November 21, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-schiffman/the-thanksgiving-truth_b_1105181.html.
  6. Thanksgiving slideshow. Scholastic Web site. http://www.scholastic.com/scholastic_thanksgiving/feast/slideshow.htm.