Thursday, November 25, 2004

A (Very) Brief History of Thanksgiving 

This would normally be an Almanac thing, but I thought I'd blog it because the Almanac is down until the New Year.

A Brief History of Thanksgiving

In the winter of 1620-1621, a group of immigrants in Massachusetts experienced a devastating winter. The weather was fierce. Food was scarce. Many died. At last spring came, then summer, and by the time of the autumn harvest things were looking about as rosy as they ever look in Massachusetts.

At a fundraising dinner that fall, Governer Bradford stood up and gave a speech.

"Thank God we survived last winter," he said. "Thank God this harvest gives us a fighting chance to survive the coming winter. And thank you for your support in the last election. Please make checks payable to the Committee to Re-Elect the Governor, God bless America, amen. Let's eat."

The ensuing winter didn't turn out too badly, so the superstitious immigrants concluded that Governor Bradford's magic spell of "Thanksgiving" had done the trick.

The holiday was intermittently celebrated for years, with an enthusiasm proportionately scaled to the previous winter's weather, until November 26, 1789, when President Washington issued a proclamation calling for a nationwide day of thanksgiving for the establishment of the Constitution.

Washington's proclamation wasn't much different from Bradford's.

"Thank God we survived last winter," he said. "Thank God we've got a fighting chance to survive the coming winter. Thank God we've got our own damn country now and don't have to put up with a bunch of meddling European bastards. And thank you for your support in the last election. Please make checks payable to Federalists for Washington, God bless America, amen. Let's eat."

(The subsequent Jefferson-Hamilton foodfight can be overlooked.)

President Washington, the Constitution, and many of the immigrants (who were now Americans) survived the winter, so this new spell was also deemed effective.

President Lincoln later proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day in 1863, but President Roosevelt moved it back to the fourth Thursday of the month in 1939 to extend the time available for holiday shopping.

President Ford proposed making it the third Wednesday in September, in order to really extend the time available for holiday shopping, but he only made the proposal to his golden retriever, Liberty, so the suggestion never reached congress.

And so we celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year, in honor of having survived last winter, having got rid of those meddling European bastards, having invented our own rules, having bitch-slapped the Confederacy, and having plenty of time to shop before the holidays.

Amen. Let's eat.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

"Jeg kommer fra et fri land..." 

We're covering the workplace in Studieskolen these days, and today we got to using our teacher's job as an example. She asked us to use an adjective or two from the current lesson to describe her work.

"Well-paying," said one classmate.

"Diverse," said another.



And so on.

"Challenging," said Thailand. (This is a new Thailand; the previous one had to repeat the last course.)

Our teacher nodded. "And why is it challenging, do you think?" she asked.

Thailand gave several answers, concluding with, "and of course you have to work with all of us foreigners, with all our problems adjusting."

The teacher nodded sympathetically.

"And what kind of adjustment problems do you have?" she asked.

"Well," Thailand began nervously—and then it came right out, an artless burst of spontaneous poetry: "I come from a free country..."

A frisson of gratitude rippled through the classroom. Twelve foreign souls shivered in ephiphanous agreement. Yes! Precisely! Yes!

Don't get me wrong: Denmark is a free country in almost every sense of the word. And yet life in Denmark is somehow, in some ineluctable way, not entirely free. I can't put my finger on it, but there it is. Every member of the class was in visible agreement. Even the teacher appeared to be in agreement.

"We have a lot of rules," she acknowledged.

"A lot," Thailand agreed.

"Too many," someone else chimed in.

"Maybe," the teacher nodded ruefully.

The depth of feeling loosed by Thailand's comment wasn't fully manifest, however, until a break later in the class—when the teacher was out of the room. I thanked Thailand for having made the comment. Suddenly a conversation broke out on the... well, the stifling somethingness of life in Denmark.

Again, I can't overstate this: Denmark is free. Danes are free. Denmark is wonderful. We foreigners are here by choice. There's a great deal to love about this beautiful little country. There's also that niggling little something, however, whatever it is, that can sometimes drive me out of my mind. I don't know precisely what it is. But it found resonance in that sweet, apologetic, plain little utterance from Thailand:

"I come from a free country..."

Danes, please take no offense! It's only a feeling shared by persons unaccustomed, I'd guess, to the extraordinary organizational genius of the Danish national character. Or the manifestations thereof. Or the astonishing cultural homogeneity made possible by such a small population. Or something.

It just felt so damn good to hear someone else say it!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Did She Say Poohead? 

Today's Almanac (a freewheeling critique of the art of censorship) is the last until 2005. I'll continue posting here and on the Moronic Underground, however, so stay tuned.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

More Molli 

I don't have anything in particular to say, but I felt it was incumbent upon me as a proud father to share some of the pictures a friend took of Molli today.

We're not going to be able to have a real Thanksgiving this year—too many other pressures bearing down on us, since it's not a holiday in Denmark (go figure) and we're moving next week—but I hardly need a special day to reflect on my gratitude.

Molli's not only visually spectacular—she's getting pretty acoustically exciting as well. We're not quite to the point of real baby talk yet—none of that "gaga googoo" stuff—but Molli has discovered her articulating mechanisms and is experimenting with an increasingly bizarre stream of sound. It consists mostly of shrieked vowels, but occassionally a consonant pops up. Sometimes she even tries to articulate while inhaling, which produces a weird asthmatic rasping sound that horrified us until we realized it was just the sound of a human being trying to figure out how her vocal chords worked. (I wasn't entirely reassured until I talked to other new parents who reported similar phenomena.)

Saturday night while we were changing her before putting her down for the night, she let out a shriek the likes of which I'd never heard outside of a horror movie. It was the kind of terrifying, blood-curdling scream you'd expect from someone whose arm was being amputated with a rusty chainsaw. Trine and I freaked out. It was scary. I swooped the bean up in my arms instinctively. What was wrong? She'd been slightly sick all day... was it more serious than we'd thought? What could cause such terrible pain to our sweet little bean?

Within seconds she was giggling happily in my arms. Apparently that unholy shriek was just Molli talk for "please pick me up." It seems, in fact, to be a mere ramping up of the Molli shriek that Trine refers to as the "Daddy, I want a pony right now!" scream.

God save me.

And on top of all that, she damn near rolled over tonight from her back to her stomach. She was in her playpen when she did it. Trine didn't see it happen. When I told her, she expressed pure incredulity.

"The first roll is almost always from the stomach to the back," she said. And that may be true. But I know what I saw.

The girl is gonna roll this week. I guarantee it.

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