Oh, brother Turkey!
So freely you give.
Of everything that you are,
So that others may truly live.
There are no official records of the exact bill of fare that was shared by the pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans at the giving of thanks feast in November of 1621. It stands to reason that the abundance of wild turkey would contribute to the belief that the bird would have been one of several meats shared by the people. But why, of all the offerings, has turkey remained a symbol of Thanksgiving? The noble turkey has blessed the celebration for almost 400 years.
In the contemporary view point a good size turkey can feed several people. One factor could have been the method of preparation of the time, slow roasted in a ground oven, over wood chips, with herbs and spices. The aroma alone could have brought the feathered fowl back time and again. And a beautifully roasted turkey looks fabulous on a platter.
In a holistic native view point the symbol of turkey itself could have contributed to the tradition. The indigenous people not only honored turkey as sustenance but honored the essence of what the turkey represented to them.
Turkey in its spiritual aspect is actually thought of as the Give-Away Eagle or South Eagle of many Native people. The philosophy of give-away was practiced by many tribes. Simply stated, it is the deep and abiding recognition of the sacrifices of both self and others. The turkey knowingly sacrifices itself so others may live.
Spectators unfamiliar with the cultural phenomenon of the pot-latch or give-away ceremony are often mystified by it. A tribal member may gladly give away all he or she owns, and do without in order to help the People. In present-day urban life, we are taught to acquire and get ahead. In some cultures, no one can be ahead unless the whole of the People’s needs are met. A person who claims more than his share is looked upon as selfish crazy or both.
To celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate the symbol of Turkey. We learn to give not out of some sense of self-righteous moralism. Help and sustenance are given by Turkey out of the realization that ALL life is sacred. It’s a knowing that the Great Spirit or God resides within all people. It is an acknowledgement that what you do for others, you do for yourself. Doing unto others and feeding the people both physically and emotionally is the message of all true spiritual systems.
May the symbol of Turkey always grace our tables.