Well, it’s Thanksgiving Day and another holiday season is upon us.  Today our festivities will center on family, friends, a turkey dinner and football (if we haven’t gone skiing.)

As I sat down to type this commentary I couldn’t help thinking about the milieu that makes up our Thanksgiving’s traditions, and thought I might offer a serving of edification for our holiday feast.

At one time or another almost every youngster has been given the classroom assignment to draw or depict a Thanksgiving scene.  While I was engaging in Sister Mary Judith’s assignment, I remember asking myself “Why would the Pilgrims walk around wearing tall black hats sporting a giant buckle on the front and wear such dark, drab clothing?”

Well as it turns out, the Pilgrims’ clothing wasn’t all that boring (by the standards of the day anyway) and while they assuredly wore hats, they were rarely tall and certainly never had buckles on them.

For decades, Americans have confused the Pilgrims with the Puritans.  While the two groups weren’t totally unrelated (both were early settlers to America in the early 17th Century and both groups fled England to escape what they considered to be the tyrannical and authoritarian Anglican Church) they were however, very far apart in spirit.

The Pilgrims were separatists who wanted to practice a simple religion without the rituals and symbolism they felt had spoiled the Protestant Church.  The Puritans on the other hand did not want to completely sever their relationship from the Anglican fold, but sought to “purify” the church and return it to more traditional practices.

Each group had reputations as authoritarian, humorless, conformists, but his stereotype actually more closely characterizes the Puritans who later in the century went on to conduct the Salem witch trials.  The Pilgrims were more democratic and inclusive in their lifestyle, which brings me back to those tall hats with the buckles.

It was the Puritans who dressed the way Pilgrims are depicted.  Pilgrims on the other hand dressed much like their counterparts in England.  They did not consider it a sin to wear stylish clothing and in fact, several occupants of the Mayflower were in the textile business.

The Pilgrims favored bright clothing and all evidence indicates that they wore green, red, yellow, violet and blue garments along with the more common white, grey and brown.  And as far as hats went, Pilgrim men wore many different types of hats including soft wool caps, straw hats, felt hats with wide brims, and silk hats with decorative tassels.

Now that we’ve cleared up that bit of misinformation, I’m sure you’re dying to know if the Pilgrims really ate turkey on that first Thanksgiving.  The answer is a definitive, “possibly but doubtful.”  More than likely venison was the main course that day.   So how did the ‘traditional’ turkey dinner become traditional?  Well, as legend has it, the then Governor of the Colony, William Bradford, sent four men “fowling” after wild ducks and geese to be served as the main course for the meal.  And while there is no record that wild turkey was part of their feast, the term “turkey” was often used by the Pilgrims to mean any sort of wild fowl.  The story and the tradition developed from there.

This brings me to the final bit of edification about Thanksgiving traditions.  Chances are that sometime during the day someone is going to turn on the TV to watch football, right?

Have you ever asked yourself, “Who are all those people on the sidelines?”  The NFL has specific limits as to who (or is it whom?) is allowed on the sidelines, but college games seem to have more people hanging around than one could find at Mid-Vail at noon on a crowded ski weekend.

Players, coaches, assistant coaches, equipment managers, towel boys (and girls), mascots, cheerleaders, officials holding the yard markers, TV camera operators, color analysts, Hollywood types, photographers, police, and of course the alumni who donate big bucks to the school are all welcomed to the sideline spectacle.

The University of Illinois, which is typical of many universities allots its credentials to 15 coaches; 10 team managers; 5 equipment managers; 10 trainers; 5 doctors; and a myriad of student assistant who get water, help with taping the players and distributing balls; a team Chaplin and of course security and event management—all tolled, these folks will take up residence between the 25-yard lines.

The NFL won’t have near as many ‘assistant hangers-on’ but still, restrictions on issuing credentials for access to the sidelines are surprisingly loose according to a researcher for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, i.e. “Anyone the team deems necessary can be there.”  Teams have even been known to keeps the electrician who supervises lighting for the stadium near the bench.  It seems that so long as the players are not being harassed the NCAA and NFL really don’t want to get too involved in regulating who’s who on the sidelines.

So now that I’ve answered three of the most burning questions of the 21st century, will someone please pass the gravy?