According to folklore, there are several possible ways the turkey got its name. One such legend has it Christopher Columbus, who you’ll remember mistakenly believed he had landed in India, thought the turkeys he found there were actually peacocks. The name for peacock in Tamil is "tuka." Just think if Columbus had a GPS and some knowledge of ornithology how different our history would have turned out. How we got from "tuka" to "turkey" is probably the same way we got from Passyunk Avenue to Pashunk Avenue.
Another story has it the Native Americans named the turkey. In Native American, it’s "firkee." Some may find it ironic Native Americans were misnamed Indians because of Columbus’ navigational error, while at the same time, they were the ones to come closest to naming the turkey correctly. I am left to wonder if we had called the bird "firkee" would we have then called the holiday Fanksgiving?
Fans of birdlore will tell you, when the turkey is scared, it emits the sound "turk, turk, turk." Presumably the birds became perpetually scared Thanksgiving Day when both the Pilgrims and the Native Americans were chasing after them with hatchets. I cannot verify the sound a turkey makes when it is scared because they tend to be very relaxed around me. It must be because I really don’t like eating them anyway.
In point of fact, about 45 million turkeys are cooked and consumed on Thanksgiving (www.infoplease.com). It is my contention most of the turkey is not consumed Thanksgiving Day, but lasts at least until Christmas, when all of us are forced by tradition to eat it again.
If turkeys knew their lives were being sacrificed on the altar of tradition, there would be an instantaneous revolt. It is one thing to give your life for a happy holiday, it is quite another because Squanto had nothing better to eat (well, he did have maize or what we call corn, but that’s a column for another week).
I can clearly see the turkeys rioting all over the world, at least here and in Canada. Real Indians have better sense than to eat it and are probably enjoying curried lamb and basmati rice on their holiday. Indeed, the very next end-of-the-world disaster movie directed by Roland Emmerich will show turkeys attacking the White House in full pursuit of the president on Thanksgiving Day 2013. That is if we survive the Mayan prophecy that we will all wind up in the toilet in ’12.
There may be people who eat turkey at other times of the year, but I have not met them nor do I wish to share a meal with them. I long ago gave up on fighting the tradition in my family. We do what most Italian families do, eat tons of manicotti prior to the fowl being served so we have no room for it. In fact, I have found the two things hardly touched on our Thanksgiving table are the turkey (we do eat the sausage stuffing) and the variety of assorted nuts in the shell my wife insists on serving. She always places a nutcracker nearby. After the meal, the nutcracker and the nuts are returned to a secure spot only she knows so they can magically reappear intact on our dinner table, again, at Christmas.
You had better not be on a low-carb diet if you are having holiday dinner with us. In addition to the pasta and the sausage stuffing, we consume two kinds of potatoes, and several large pies, and end the evening by nibbling on my wife’s wonderful homemade cookies. Right after Thanksgiving we all have a colon cleansing to get ready for Christmas Eve and Christmas.
This year, I thought I would save my wife all the work, because historically I do far less than my fair share. I proposed we all dine at McCormick & Schmick’s, a seafood restaurant offering a full traditional Thanksgiving dinner at a reasonable price. I almost had her sold on the deal until she talked to my daughter. They both decided they would rather eat the more expensive seafood than settle for a turkey dinner if they were dining at the restaurant, so my wife changed her mind. Rather than settle for eating turkey at a restaurant, which no one prefers, she would rather us eat at home where we will be forced to serve — you guessed it — turkey. I sort of think this makes my point about our genuine dislike of turkey, don’t you?
Southerners are much smarter than us in this area. If they have to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, they will either barbecue it or put it in a deep-fryer. They will deep-fry or barbecue anything in the South, even Daddy’s long johns. It’s the South’s version of our melting mozzarella on everything.
I’ve got it, we’ll serve a deep-fried turkey topped with melted cheese and start a new tradition.