Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Turkey's POV

 Michael - Thanksgiving 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Assuming that you celebrate it, of course. Turkeys generally don't, except perhaps for the one who gets feted at the White House. 

Although many countries have a harvest festival of some sort, Thanksgiving is rather specifically a north American festival, although there are spin-offs in the Caribbean and even in Liberia, because of their American connections. Black Friday, however, has spread around the world as a bargain sale day. That shows the power of commerce and marketing, I suppose.

But back to the turkeys. How do they fit in? One's immediate thought would be that wild turkeys were common, and so when it came to celebrating a plentiful harvest, they were available for the center piece of the feast. However, it seems more likely that the turkey was added afterwards when Sarah Josepha Hale, the 19th century American author of Mary Had a Little Lamb and other classics, popularized turkey as the main course for Thanksgiving dinner by featuring it in her novel, Northwood.

The domestic turkey is a descendant of the north American variety. Probably these turkeys' best chance is to be sent to the White House as a Thanksgiving gift. That's been a long tradition, but George H W Bush seems to have started a policy of "pardoning" the turkey. The presentation of a domestic turkey from the National Turkey Federation is followed by the pardoning and then the turkey goes to a good home instead of a good dinner. 

Apparently, Ronald Reagan came up with the idea when he was getting flack over the pardoning of Oliver North in the disastrous Contra scandal. All rather odd, since the turkey had obviously done nothing that required a pardon whereas Oliver North obviously had. Perhaps the media are a bit less sympathetic to presidents these days. History does not record whether the president has a different Turkey for dinner afterwards...

Speaking of different "turkeys", there seems some confusion about the African Guinea Fowl. Then there are chickens in Madagascar almost the size of turkeys, so they may have been involved in some way also.

And because I arrived in Brisbane two days ago, I must mention the Australian Brush Turkey. Not great to eat, I'm told, but they are impressive construction engineers. The males make huge nests basically of compost and use the heat generated by the compost heap to incubate the eggs. Great idea! Unless the compost used to be your garden. But Brush Turkeys have all been prepardoned, so you just have to live with it...

Brush turkey nest


  1. Thanks to YOU today, Michael. I am happy to see the day celebrated here on MIE. Thanksgiving is a holiday that I love. To me it is quintessentially American and democratic. It does not align with any religion, nationality, or culture. It’s about gratitude and family gathering. No gifts to buy. Just favorite foods to eat.

    For years I have asked Americans of all backgrounds what they eat on Thanksgiving. All of them answer pretty much in the same way. They have all their favorite foods from their culture – Chinese, Filipino, Ecuadorian…. And a turkey! I love that!

    1. I completely agree. It's the commercial holidays that have been spread around the world - by the commercial interests!

  2. Interesting. Now here’s a riddle for you: why is the bird named after a country?

    1. How do you know the country isn't named after the bird?

    2. Good question. Probably the bird was originally referred to in English simply as a "turkey". Then, perhaps as a nod to its impressive nest, as a "brush turkey". Since it's not related to a north American turkey at all, maybe the "Australian" was thrown in to weaken the connection.
      Bird names are confusing and inconsistent. We used to have European Swallows in South Africa, which migrated from Europe each year. Turns out that they are identical to the north American Barn Swallow. So now we have Barn swallows that migrate to South Africa each year from Europe. The birds don't seem to care much.