Today marks exactly three weeks until Thanksgiving. As we gather around the table to give thanks to God and remember our many blessings, the most prominent item on your table is probably a large bird, roasted to moist, golden perfection. But have you ever paused to think about the history behind the bird, how it made it to our Thanksgiving table, and what else might have been there instead?
Let’s begin our exploration with Christopher Columbus. When the first adventurers and merchants began “discovering” the New World, they noticed a strange, wild fowl that was native to this continent. No one knows for sure how the creatures came to be known as the Turkey, but it is suspected that the word was referring to the actual country of Turkey. But how does a bird in North America get stuck with the name of a country on the other side of the world?
Some historians believe that it came from the early Turks who would sell exotic wild fowl, such as Guineas from West Africa, to Europe. Apparently, they became known for their strange birds, so when the English spotted the wild bird in the New World, it was easy for them to refer to it as the Turkey Cock. Which was then shortened to Turkey.
The Turks however, don’t claim the bird either. They have no such birds native to their country. Their name for it is…get this…Hindi. They figured the bird must be Indian. The French also picked that up and called it Poulet d’Inde or chicken from India. Other languages have called it the Peru or the Dutch chicken. In truth, the poor turkey doesn’t have its own name, even scientifically. Its binomial nomenclature, Meleagris gallopavo is basically a mixture of the Latin words for rooster and peacock, with a nod at a mythical story of a goddess turning mourners into guineas. Apparently, nobody knew what it was or what to call it, so they just pegged a name on the poor bird.
At any rate, the turkey ended up becoming a permanent part of survival in the New World. Most of us know why it is associated with Thanksgiving. It was one of the animals they could hunt and eat in this new land, and one that was at least somewhat like the domestic chickens they were accustomed to. I wonder how long it took them to get used to the gamey taste of wild fowl and deer.
In a letter from Benjamin Franklin to his daughter, he does express his disappointment that the bald eagle was chosen to represent the country. He considered the bird to be of bad moral character, too lazy to catch his own food, bullying others out of theirs instead. He criticized the eagle design saying it looked more like a turkey, and in his rant, went on to say that he believed the turkey would have been a worthier choice given that it is a native of the country, brave, and respectable. He did admit, however that it is a little ‘silly and vain’. Still an amusing story, but a far cry from proposing it as the seal of the United States.
There you are. Some turkey trivia for your holiday gathering.
Now, I’d love to hear your turkey stories! From thanksgiving fiascos, to fond memories, to hunting them out of the woods yourself…share your turkey and we’ll have an early Thanksgiving dinner. 😉
Amber Schamel writes riveting stories that bring HIStory to life. She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest". Her title, Dawn of Liberty, was awarded the 2017 CSPA Book of the Year award in Historical Fiction. She lives in Colorado and spends half her time volunteering in the Ozarks. Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at www.AmberSchamel.com/ and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!