“A day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” — George Washington, the first President of the United States, delivering the National Thanksgiving Proclamation, on October 3rd, 1789

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

Pity the turkey. Capons are sauced, cranes are lifted, partridges are allayed, geese are reared. Turkeys are, to use the proper historical carving vocabulary, simply cut up. The ritual carving of the turkey is one of the few vestiges of a past, glorious tradition that once wowed diners at spectacular feasts, and yet, the prosaic words for slicing up the turkey do not seem to match the grandeur of the deed.

Once, carving was held in high esteem. It was less about serving base bodily needs for nourishment and more concerned with spectacle and performance. Those who carved (and those who had carving done for them) were not concerned with where their next meal was coming from. It was a demonstration of power: the ability to muster a bountiful feast and an exhibition of control of the body (both that of the carver and of the animal carcass to be… More…

The Ethiopian cooks had two antelopes brought in from the zoo. They gutted, skinned, and roasted them in spices and butter. Twenty turkeys — stuffed with herbs and bread — were thrust into the antelopes and the empty crevasses filled with hundreds of hardboiled eggs. A bleating camel, feeling something sinister in the room, was soon slaughtered as well, his innards replaced with the antelopes, whose innards had been replaced with the turkeys and eggs, whose innards had been replaced with breads, spices, herbs, and fish. And the Emperor of Ethiopia ate only just a little.

Bawdy, exorbitant, unethical. In the most mythic banquets, everything is permitted, nothing impossible. Mile-high desserts carved to resemble palaces, grapes served upon platters of young boys, vomit buckets. But aside from the slaves, drunkenness, and orgies, it is perhaps the dining upon outrageously prepared animals — much like the stuffed camel Bohumil Hrabel describes… More…

 

Thanksgiving is a solid holiday. It has its rituals, mostly related to food, and its stories, mostly about colonists cooperating with Native Americans that (to put it politely) play fast and loose with the historical record. Thanksgiving celebrates a foundational moment in the New World and is thus a most American holiday. Revolving around family and food, Thanksgiving brings feelings of comfort, warmth, and a pleasing if indefinite sense that everything in this country is as it should be.

Not so Halloween. Halloween is about masks and the supernatural. It is a nighttime affair that flirts with the unknown. Halloween deals with evil. It’s rooted in celebrations of the harvest and the feast days that come from various European traditions. It is also a death holiday, perhaps because it originally marked the time for the slaughter of livestock…. More…