On this day after Thanksgiving the turkey coma has lifted but, reinforced by leftovers for lunch, a turkey high lingers. The precise historical details of this particular holiday are not important, as much as they, like everything else, are politicized. (The 1993 movie Addams Family Values addresses this with dark humor about as well as any.) In truth it is just a seasonal harvest feast given a thin origin myth – and not a very good one. That’s fine. Any excuse is fine, for a desire for ritualized feasting might be embedded in our very nature.
Hunter-gatherer groups throw big get-togethers for various tribes, clans, and bands – some of them from far distances. It’s a good way for exogamous peoples to find spouses, to learn about their neighbors, and just to have a great party. Since no party is complete without an excess of food and drink, it is entirely possible that agriculture started as a way to host parties. Archaeologists Neil Canuel, Jennifer Shanse, and Brian Hayden argued exactly this in their 2013 paper “What Was Brewing in the Naftuian?” A better diet for less work can be had by hunting and gathering than by farming, so it always has been something of a mystery why agriculture began 10,000 years ago. One thing agriculture offers is an abundance of cereals for brewing beer: the missing ingredient for boozy feasts. A secondary effect is a surplus of calories that can feed an urban population: it makes civilization possible. So, whatever the origin myth of any particular seasonal celebration, the feast connects us in deep way to our past and to the beginnings of modern life. Every culture ever since has come up with excuses to have one. Besides, who doesn’t like a drumstick washed down with Riesling?
Sixteen of the usual suspects (a few family, but mostly not) showed up at my place yesterday and dutifully made gluttons of ourselves. It was grand fun but I’m hiding the bathroom scale until January 2.
Somehow I don’t think the NASA meals would have enthused all of my guests