TIME Culture

Watch President Obama Pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey

Gobble gobble

U.S. President Barack Obama pardoned this year’s Thanksgiving turkey Wednesday to continue a White House tradition that goes back 67 years.

“It is a little puzzling that I do this every year, but I will say that I enjoy it because with all the tough stuff that swirls around in this office it’s nice once in a while just to say, ‘Happy Thanksgiving,'” said Obama.

The 50-lb. turkey named Cheese was voted to escape the knife this year by the public on Twitter.

Cheese, and his alternate Mac, were raised by the National Turkey Federation.

Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

TIME Culture

American Cities and Towns With the Most Holiday Spirit

Aspen, Colorado
Aspen, Colorado Jeremy Swanson

Twinkling lights, sumptuous meals, and maybe even Santa skiing down the slopes: T+L readers share their favorite towns for the holidays

Johnny Johnston has lived in Los Angeles for 20 years, but when he goes home for the holidays, he finds himself enchanted all over again by the winter wonderland where he grew up: Vail, CO.

“From the moment you drive into the valley, the streets and public spaces are all lit with Christmas lights, creating a Norman Rockwell moment,” says the broker for Sotheby’s International Realty. Even if his mom still hassles him about what shirt he wears to his aunt’s dinner party, “Vail is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen for the holiday season.”

Many Travel + Leisure readers agree, ranking the Colorado mountain town at No. 2 for seasonal cheer in the America’s Favorite Places survey. Readers evaluated hundreds of towns in dozens of features, from romance to thriving art scenes to irresistible bakeries. To determine the best towns for the holidays, we combined the scores in a few festive categories: department-store shopping, notable restaurants, and Christmas lights.

Plenty of the top 25 holiday towns offer creative spins on holiday traditions, too, whether they look like winter wonderlands or not. In a South Carolina town, you can have your turkey dinner in barbecue sauce. In one mountain town, the annual tree lighting involves a faux pine made of recycled skis. And in places from Healdsburg, CA, to Charlottesville, VA, you can pick up holiday gifts—local wines, French linens, or antique cookbooks—that you’d never find at the mall back home.

Another kind of holiday magic (low-season rates and fewer crowds) can create a blissful version of Silent Night. That’s why Far Hills, NJ, resident Gavin Macomber has spent a few Christmases by the beach in Nantucket, MA. “It’s fun to walk around town sipping hot chocolate and watching snow fall,” says the founder of Andegavia Cask Wines. “Nantucket is particularly peaceful this time of year—which makes it an ideal place to escape to during the holidays.”

No. 1 Aspen, CO

A combination of luxe living and quaint charm helped this Rocky Mountain town capture the spot as the merriest of them all. Wandering along Cooper Avenue, you may chance upon cookie exchanges, public s’mores roasts, or elf meet-and-greets. But the two most famous hotels in town act as the nerve centers for holiday cheer. The lobby of the Hotel Jerome regularly hosts carolers, while the Ajax Tavern and Element 47 at the Little Nell both serve fabulous holiday meals, with indulgences like venison loin with huckleberries, black truffles, and chestnut-and-caramel profiteroles. The Little Nell also hosts the all-you-can-sip Bottomless Cristal New Year’s Eve Party.

No. 2 Vail, CO

Ski season kicks into high gear during the holidays in this Colorado wonderland. December brings the festivities of Snowdaze—where the fresh powder is celebrated with live concerts every evening—and Holidaze, which includes the village’s tree lighting during the winter solstice and a New Year’s Eve torchlight parade down Golden Peak, followed by fireworks. Any time of year, readers love Vail’s liquid nourishments, ranking the town highly for its hot coffee (compare local favorites Yeti’s Grind and Loaded Joe’s) and equally warming cocktails. You might toast the New Year with a Rosemary Lemon Drop (rosemary-infused vodka with lemon juice and a sugar rim) at the icicle-decorated bar Frost, inside the recently renovated Sebastian Vail.

No. 3 Ogunquit, ME

Readers may be drawn to this former artists’ colony in Maine as a beach getaway, but the holiday season brings the perks of winter on the sand: lower prices and overall calm, with just enough festivity to keep things humming. Mid-December’s Christmas by the Sea Festival typically includes a bonfire on the beach and a soul-warming chowder fest. From Ogunquit, you can also easily reach two shopping areas for getting through your list: the Kittery Outlets and, an hour away, Freeport. For distinctive local shopping, browse the Harbor Candy Shop, where the gift boxes include a Vegan Sampler, featuring soy truffles, marzipan, and orange peel enrobed in dark chocolate.

No. 4 Nantucket, MA

The banner event during the holidays in this island town started in the 1970s, because too many locals left to shop in Cape Cod. Today, during the annual Christmas Stroll—typically the first weekend in December—you can shop downtown amid dozens of seven-foot, decorated Christmas trees, and take part in wine tastings, ghost walks, and home tours. Pick up some gifts at Murray’s Toggery Shop (the mother ship for holiday-ready Nantucket Reds pants) and Jessica Hicks, the boutique of a local jewelry designer. For more tree-gazing, go to the Whaling Museum, which houses 80 trees decorated by local artists, merchants, and kids. Nantucket also scored well with readers for feeling both mellow and romantic.

No. 5 Naples, FL

This Florida town lacks snowman-building material—it ranked highly in the survey for warm weather and beach getaways. But the snowbird-style winter wonderland still lured holiday revelers with its luxury stores, cool boutiques, and festive ambience. Third Street South is the headquarters for the official tree, evening “snow” showers during Thanksgiving week, and gorgeous window displays, like those at department store Marissa Collections in the Old Naples Historic District. Continue shopping along Fifth Avenue South, and check out whimsical clothing and gift shop Wind in the Willows, whose window won Best in Show at the 2013 local holiday decorating contest. Of course, the holidays are about more than retail; catch the Naples edition of the worldwide TUBA Christmas, a concert on Fifth Avenue South’s Sugden Plaza featuring brass tubas, euphoniums, and baritones.

Read the full list HERE.

More from Travel + Leisure:

TIME language

7 English Words You’d Never Guess Have American Indian Roots

Dictionary
Getty Images

English speakers owe Algonquian speakers many thanks

The Pilgrims had plenty of thanks to give the Wampagnog Indians in 1621, around the time they had a certain special meal you might have heard of. Members of that American Indian tribe had been essential to the early settlers’ survival, teaching them which crops to plant and how to fish.

Modern day English speakers, who are about to gorge themselves on sweet potatoes and napping this Thanksgiving, might not know that they have a smaller joy for which to give thanks: the many words that English adopted from American Indian languages (or at least may have). These are words beyond the ones you learned in elementary school like moccasins or powwow, as well as the Mayflower-sized pile of place names derived from American Indian words, including the names of about half the states. Here are some that should at the least make good conversation if you and your distant aunt run out of things to talk about over second helpings.

moose (n.): a ruminant mammal with humped shoulders, long legs, and broadly palmated antlers that is the largest existing member of the deer family.

Moose comes from the New England Algonquian word for that animal: moòs. Algonquian describes a family of about three dozens languages spoken by American Indian tribes, like Arapaho and Cree. One of the first known English-speakers to use the word moose was Captain John Smith, who recounted the creatures in his 1616 writings about the New World.

Yankee (n.): a nickname for a native or inhabitant of New England, or, more widely, of the northern States generally.

Yankee, that word the redcoats used to use to mock American doodles who thought they were fancy because of their feathery hats, is of uncertain origin. But one of the earliest theories is that the slang comes from the Cherokee word eankke, meaning slave or coward. In 1789, a British officer said Virginians used that word to describe New Englanders who sat out during war with the Cherokees.

raccoon (n.): a small North American animal with grayish-brown fur that has black fur around its eyes and black rings around its tail.

Our word for what may be the most adorable cat-sized, trash-eating creatures in America comes from a Virginia Algonquian language. In a book about animals written two years before the United States declared independence, the author noted that the raccoon was also sometimes called the “Jamaica rat, as it is found there in great abundance, playing havoc with everything.”

squash (n.): any of various fruits of plants of the gourd family widely cultivated as vegetables.

Squash is a shortened form of what the Narragansett, an Algonquian-speaking tribe from what is now Rhode Island, called that food: asquutasquash. Circa the 1600s, English-speakers used a closer (and now obsolete) derivative: squanter-squash. And they described the squanter-squash as a cake, bread and “kind of Mellon.” Though today considered a vegetable in cooking, the squash is technically a fruit, even if it seems too starch-like to be in the same family.

toboggan (n.): a long, light sled that has a curved front and that is used for sliding over snow and ice.

Early French settlers in what would later be North America took the Algonquian word for this vessel and made it tabaganne, and that became the English toboggan. The northern neighbors of the tribes who used this word, Alaska Natives like the Inuit, gave English words too, like kayak and husky.

skunk (n.): a North American animal of the weasel kind, noted for emitting a very offensive odor when attacked or killed.

As you’ve probably noticed, there is more than one animal on this list. Encountering new creatures, English speakers had no words of their own for them and so naturally adapted names from the hundreds of American Indian languages already being spoken in the country. Skunk comes from the Abenaki tribe’s name for this potent weasel: segankw.

caucus (n.): a private meeting of the leaders or representatives of a political party.

Like Yankee, the exact origin of this word is unknown. But a possible derivation is from an Algonquin word cau′-cau-as′u, meaning one who advises, urges or encourages. That word has its own roots, according to the Oxford English Dicitionary, in words meaning “to give counsel” and “to urge, promote, incite to action.” American Indian names, the OED notes, were commonly taken by clubs and secret associations in New England.

And here is an eighth word, which you should consider a bonus feature that probably doesn’t have Indian American roots at all, though people in the past have argued that case.

OK (adj., int.): all right; satisfactory, good; well, in good health or order.

The lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary do not give a definite origin of this word. They do say it “seems clear” that the heavy favorite theory (O.K. being an abbreviation of “oll korrect,” a play on “all correct”) is true. But they still list competing, underdog origin stories, including the idea that “O.K. represents an alleged Choctaw word” okii, meaning “it is.” The Choctaw may have actually used the word as a suffix to mean “despite what you are wrongly thinking,” as in, “I did too remember to turn the oven off, okii.” It’s an interesting story that would connect well with passive-aggressive uses today. But if you find yourself with free time this holiday, you might peruse the whole history written to support the prevailing theory.

TIME society

Let’s Give Thanks and Stop Whining This Holiday Season

world
Getty Images

The world has never been better

In her classic reinterpretation of Western history, The Legacy of Conquest, Patricia Nelson Limerick writes of an entrepreneurial young man in St. Louis eager to get in on the 1849 Gold Rush. He hands over $200 to a fledgling new carrier called the Pioneer Line that promises comfortable and speedy (60 days, give or take) coach service to the coast, food and drinks included.

Things don’t go as smoothly as advertised. Passengers have to walk part of the way on account of the wagons being overloaded and the ponies being spent. Many travelers die on the voyage, some early on from cholera, others later from scurvy. Once in San Francisco, the young man finds he is too late to the party, struggling to make a living taking menial jobs and distraught that his letters back home take up to six or seven months to arrive.

I can relate. On a recent flight out West, for which I also plopped about $200, we were ordered off the plane after we’d already boarded on account of some mechanical issue, then were forced to wait while United reassigned another aircraft. We made it to Phoenix a full three hours late. I don’t think any of us picked up scurvy along the ways, but things were pretty rough: The onboard Wi-Fi wasn’t working, the flight attendants ran out of Diet Coke, and the guy in front of me reclined his seat so that it nearly touched my knees. Cross-country travel remains ghastly, even when you have a book as good as Limerick’s to entertain you.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? That’s right: Let’s stop whining already — at least for this holiday season. We’re so spoiled we can’t really relate to how bad previous generations had it.

The “good old days” are a figment of our imagination. Life — here, there, everywhere — has never been better than it is today. Our lives have certainly never been longer: Life expectancy in the U.S. is now 78.8 years, up from 47.3 years in 1900. We are also healthier by almost any imaginable measure, whether we mean that literally, by looking at health indices, or more expansively, by looking at a range of living- standard and social measures (teen pregnancy rates, smoking, air-conditioning penetration, water and air quality, take your pick).

And in the rest of the world, the news is even better. Despite all the horrors in the headlines, fewer people are dying these days in conflicts, or from natural disasters, than in the past. The world has its obvious geopolitical divides, but a nuclear Armageddon triggered by the reckless hostility of great powers doesn’t loom large as a threat, as it did not long ago. Most impressive of all, the number of people in the world living in dire poverty has been cut in half since 1990, fulfilling a key U.N. development goal that once struck many as unrealistic. With infant mortality rates plummeting and education levels rising all over, people are having fewer kids and taking better care of them. In most of the world, the new normal is to send girls to school along with their brothers, an accomplishment whose significance, development experts will tell you, cannot be overstated.

Even as Americans, we don’t have to compare ourselves to our 19th-century forefathers — or to the Pilgrims — to appreciate how life has become better. Things have improved drastically in our own lifetimes. Remember how unsafe cities were not long ago? How we used to smoke on airplanes? How our urban rivers used to catch fire? Reported violent crimes in the United States are down by half since 1993. And consider how much more humane our society has become. We still suffer from inherited racial, gender, and other biases in our society, but to a far lesser extent than in the past; the bigoted among us are finding less and less acceptance. We’ve adopted a default tolerance of others’ choices and values — think of the revolution in attitudes toward gays over the course of one generation. Americans’ ability to pursue happiness as we see fit has never been greater.

And when it comes to how we communicate, entertain, and learn from one another, we might as well live in an alternate universe to the one we inhabited as recently as the 1980s. Today more than 70 percent of homes have broadband connectivity, and more than 90 percent of American adults have a cellphone. (Remember rotary phones?) If you ever feel bored, your 1980s doppelganger should appear before you in the middle of the night—and just slap you.

And no, growing inequality is not the hallmark of our era. On the contrary, when you look at the human community as a whole, the present time will be remembered for the expansion of the global middle class, and the democratization of living and health standards that once were the privileged birthright in only the wealthiest societies. A few months back I sat through a riveting presentation by Steven Rattner on rising inequality in the U.S., but his most telling slide (arguably undercutting the rest of his talk) was his last, entitled “to end on an optimistic note,” that put the issue in a global context. It showed that most of the world’s workers (as opposed to the middle classes in the most developed countries) have seen their incomes rise in the last 30 years at a rapid clip, much like what’s happened to the super rich.

No one has done more to propagate the notion of a “great convergence” of living standards in the world than the charismatic Swedish development economist Hans Rosling. Go online this holiday season and check out his dynamic graphs that chart countries’ life expectancy and incomes over time since the Middle Ages. They will make you smile, and be thankful. His graphs make humanity look like a flock of birds taking flight, with the U.S. and Europe leading the way, but the others following, tentatively at first, then more assuredly.

So why, if life is better all around, do we whine and complain endlessly as if we live in the worst of times? The answer is: Our success allows us to constantly update our expectations. When my flight is three hours late and the Wi-Fi is busted, I couldn’t care less what it took to cross the country in previous centuries. We are all prima donnas that way. Even in China, young middle-class consumers whine as well, instead of counting their blessings that they didn’t suffer through Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

I’ll concede, very grudgingly, that all this whining can be a good thing. As Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, has written, we’re hard-wired to be disgruntled. It’s the only way we achieve progress. Evolution requires us to demand more and better, all the time.

Otherwise, we would have given each other high-fives when life expectancy reached 50 and a cross-country journey took just two months—and that would have been that. Still, suspend your whining for a moment this holiday season. Let’s appreciate how far we’ve come.

Andres Martinez is editorial director of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column. He is a professor of journalism at Arizona State University.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Thanksgiving: Grandma and the Baby Would Forget—But Mom and I Would Remember

turkey
Getty Images

During this get-together of four generations speaking three languages, we all take turns playing caretaker and taken-care-of

I think back to the first Thanksgiving I spent with my infant daughter three years ago, which was also the last one I spent with my grandmother. The multigenerational gathering at my childhood home in Alhambra, mixing Chinese, Vietnamese, and American traditions, is not only etched in my memory, it’s immortalized in a digital photograph.

In the photo, my mom is holding my nearly four-month-old daughter in her arms, while my arms rest by my 84-year-old grandma, whom we all called Popo (the Chinese word for grandmother).

The entire family doesn’t get together like this often — but Thanksgiving is a holiday when 20 or more relatives cram into my mom’s modest townhouse to eat, drink, laugh — and annoy each other. For an evening, our lives touch and intertwine, and like an infinity mirror, we can see the past and future stretched out around us. In our lives, we have alternated between the roles of caretaker and taken-care-of, sometimes a bit of both.

A few months before that Thanksgiving, Popo had moved to an assisted living facility in San Gabriel. She had deteriorating kidneys and Alzheimer’s. When she was in better health, she had cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner that included slow-roasted, soy sauce-basted turkey, and hearty fish maw with shark fin soup.

Once, I pointed out that perhaps we ought to forgo the shark fin because of cruel commercial harvesting practices, and that the low heat she used to cook the turkey might not comply with modern health codes. But Popo was going to cook her turkey as she saw fit. In Vietnam, she had supported a husband and six kids by running her own stall at the market selling fabrics, and she had escaped communist Vietnam with her family by paying in gold bars for their exit as boat people.

But that Thanksgiving, Popo was no longer feeding us. Instead, my uncle tried his hand at the soy sauce-basted turkey; my mom made turkey curry with lemongrass and bay leaf.

As we sat down at the table, Popo had already eaten. She was on a liquid diet, fed directly into her stomach via a feeding tube. When Popo did manage a few spoonfuls of food, mom gently wiped her lips and cheeks.

This was something Mom did all the time. Mom was retired, but she always woke early, cooked meals for her sister and herself, and was off to Popo’s assisted living facility before 9 a.m. She washed Popo’s face in the morning, combed her hair to cover the bald patch, and rallied aides to help Popo to the bathroom so she could avoid sitting in excrement. Mom knew a mountain of dignity could be granted with a wipe of a napkin, comfort given with socks that she continually put back on Popo’s feet.

At Thanksgiving dinner, my daughter Hazel looked around her at all the new faces. She stared at the food we put it in our mouths. At the moment, she was relying on me for her milk and gaining critical pounds.

As Hazel drank, milk drops flowed down her cheeks and settled into the folds of her double chin. I grabbed a burp cloth and wiped her lips and cheeks.

Someone else was taking care of my baby while I worked during the day, and I fretted. I worried that she was sitting in excrement. That she wasn’t being adequately stimulated. I wondered if her blankets were kicked off, whether her socks had stayed on.

On that Thanksgiving evening, though, there was no assisted living, no daycare. Just time and those growing into life sharing an evening with those growing out of it. By the next day, Popo would have forgotten and so would have Hazel. But Mom and I would remember that moment, as would the camera.

Kim Luu is an environmental sustainability professional and lives in Alhambra, California, with her husband and two kids. She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a project of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Ferguson’s Emotional Aftermath

Vanessa DeLuca
Vanessa DeLuca Courtesy of Essence

Vanessa DeLuca is the Editor in Chief of ESSENCE.

As a Black mother, it frightens me that I have come to expect this verdict, writes the editor of ESSENCE

I am tired of sighing. And crying. And “why oh why-ing” to anyone who will listen.

We know why this decision in Ferguson happened. The hurt is so deep, and the pain has gone on for so long.

And so we mothers of Black sons wake up to another injustice hangover, our heads heavy with the weight of absorbing too many messages that tell us, SHOW us, daily, that our loved ones have no worth in the eyes of those who are supposed to protect us. We understand the pain. We understand the anger. But we know that violence only reinforces what many already believe about us.

As a Black mother, it frightens me that I have come to expect this verdict. Because it means that I have allowed myself to give up the ability to feel hope when unarmed young Black men are murdered by police officers.

But like you, I will not allow this hurt to destroy me. And I will not allow it to erase the hope I still see in my son’s eyes.

Oppression is fueled by helplessness. We can’t stay in that space. None of us can afford to hibernate there.

So I will try to summon up the energy to fight back in ways that matter. Because yesterday I was able to sit across the table from my son, over lunch, and spend some time bonding. And this next fight has to be for the mothers who can no longer say that.

I hope you will join with me in fighting for legislation to protect our children’s rights.

This article originally appeared on Essence.com.

Should Ferguson Protestors be Person of the Year? Vote below for #TIMEPOY

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Celebrating Thanksgiving With America’s First Rock Star

Massachusetts. Sign At Plymouth Rock
Getty Images

Plymouth Rock has been the subject of history lessons, songs, and speeches for 400 years. Why do we love it?

“Plymouth Rock is a glacial erratic at rest in exotic terrane.” So begins John McPhee’s classic 1990 New Yorker article, the best short piece ever written about the great American relic, pointing out how geological forces carried this rock far from its original home — Africa. It is an iconic mass of granite geologically formed by fire, but it certainly also qualifies as a sedimentary and metamorphic chunk of American political culture. Plymouth Rock has long been a symbol of America’s beginnings, the country’s bedrock, its very foundation. And in the Rock’s surprising travels, during its original journey to Plymouth Harbor and its subsequent wanderings and memorialization, it has embodied authentic Americanism, on the move.

As a historian of early America, I’ve long been fascinated by how the people, places, and things of the colonial era have been remembered in American popular culture — that is, in the sort of history that “we carry around in our heads,” not the history that history professors profess. And the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock do feature prominently in our collective heads, particularly as November arrives each year and we turn our attention to Thanksgiving. Why make such a big deal of a small band of Puritan separatists who were not the first European colonists of America, and not even the most prominent Puritan colonists of Massachusetts? And did they actually ever step on Plymouth Rock, or treat it as anything other than an erratic? All this seems not to matter; I long ago resolved that history is and should be much more than mere debunking.

In the early 1990s, while on a ferry in New York Harbor, I overheard a conversation that demonstrated the ongoing significance of those Plymouth “forefathers.” Anticipating their visit to the historic Ellis Island and eyeing the Statue of Liberty in the distance, one passenger said to another, “These immigrants were just doing what the very first Americans, the Pilgrims, were doing.” Her companion nodded toward the island and agreed: “That was their Plymouth Rock.” Fractured history, yet rock-solid nonetheless.

McPhee reconstructed the Rock’s migration, via the mechanisms of plate tectonics, as part of a large slice of the earth’s crust called Atlantica, which joined North America some 580 million years ago from a distant locale — Africa, mostly likely. Then, approximately 20,000 years ago, the boulder was scooped up by moving ice and ultimately deposited at Plymouth Harbor when glaciers retreated at the end of the Ice Age. After the Pilgrims showed up in 1620, the Rock’s migrations only accelerated, as people circulated its shards as relics, just as believers disseminated the bones of saints and pieces of the true cross in medieval Europe to help sanctify a holy narrative. In this case, they were shoring up a New World narrative about the glorious rise of the American republic.

Until late in the 18th century, the Puritan Separatists who founded Plymouth colony in 1620 were but one marginal group of predecessors, not yet Capital-P “Pilgrims,” not yet the nation’s forefathers. Plymouth Rock belatedly received its first public recognition as the Pilgrims’ alleged landing place when church elder Thomas Faunce assembled his children and grandchildren on the spot and recited the tale in 1742, a legend later fossilized in print by Dr. James Thacher, who provided no corroborating evidence. The Separatists’ narrative and their Rock acquired symbolic power during the American Revolution, as the new United States sought independence.

By the late 1700s, Thanksgiving had become a well-established regional festival in New England, tracing its roots to a feast in the autumn of 1621. Plymouth Rock, however, was at first more directly tied to a different occasion: Forefathers’ Day, or Landing Day, on December 22, commemorating the debarkation of the Mayflower passengers in 1620. Popular among fraternal ancestor organizations, Landing Day was a civic event that expressed exclusivity, expansionism, and stubborn mission, while Thanksgiving was a domestic and community fete celebrating bounty, charity, and inclusion, And while both holidays spread beyond New England, carried by migrating Yankees who shared the Rock as a touchstone, only Thanksgiving’s spirit overtook the hearts and festive calendars of Americans.

Toasting the Pilgrims at a New England Society fete near the end of the 19th century, Frederic Taylor of New York proclaimed:

It is our habit to think of Plymouth Rock always as being at Plymouth, and nowhere else. Well it was there once [but] when the Pilgrims’ feet pressed that boulder at Plymouth it became instinct with life and began to broaden at its base; and its base has ever since been spreading out, till now Plymouth Rock underlies the continent.

Using the Rock as potent metaphor, Taylor imagined it as a stepping-stone and foundation for Union generals Grant and Sherman, as ballast for the Monitor as it defeated the Merrimac, and as Abraham Lincoln’s hammer of freedom.

Given the seismic tumult of American history, it’s perhaps no surprise that the gravitas surrounding the Pilgrims would be shaken. The 19th-century New York lawyer and politico Chauncey Depew, a frequent after-dinner speaker at New England Society banquets, once tweaked his patrician audience with this cheeky comment: “What a pity instead of the Pilgrim Fathers landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock had not landed on the Pilgrim Fathers,” which set off a chain of similar jokes over the years, including in the opening lines of the Cole Porter standard “Anything Goes.”

Few relished deflating the puffery of Pilgrim celebrations as much as Mark Twain. He once facetiously urged attendees at a New England Society dinner to sell their chief asset: “Opulent New England [is] overflowing with rocks,” and “this one isn’t worth at the outside, more than 35 cents.” As Twain knew, this was no ordinary rock, not even merely a brand name, but a priceless relic, providing a more visceral link to the past, what one scholar has called a “zero-hand” account. Relics — including Plymouth Rock —are “things that speak.”

But the Rock could sometimes speak in controversial and unpredictable ways. In the bicentenary celebration at Plymouth in 1820, for example, the orator Daniel Webster linked it (somewhat creatively) not only to religious freedom but also to the anti-slavery cause. (Many Southerners initially resisted the celebration of Thanksgiving itself because it seemed to carry the taint of abolitionism.) One fragment later helped raise money for the Union effort in the Civil War at a Boston Sanitary Fair in 1863.

Disturbingly for some descendants of “First Comers,” the Rock could sometimes be claimed by other latter-day “pilgrims” — from Ireland or Italy, Poland or Puerto Rico. Its message has been pluralism as well as nationalism and chauvinism. And if the Rock powerfully symbolizes the United States as a nation of immigrants, ironically this granite boulder from Africa might better represent those immigrants who came against their will, in chains, in the largest forced migration in history. For non-immigrants — Native Americans — it sometimes served as a potent prop in their struggle for recognition and rights.

Sometimes relics fall mute. In the 1920s, the Plymouth Antiquarian Society (and later the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History) acquired a large piece that had been cut from the doorstep of a house in Plymouth. A fragment of another rock at the Smithsonian — a craggy nugget chipped from the Mother Rock by Lewis Bradford in 1830, inscribed with the precise details of its collection and transformation into a circulating talisman — sat silently for years among a collection that had been donated in 1911. It only regained a “speaking part” in the museum’s displays and publications in the late 20th century.

Plymouth Rock is an emblem defined by its solidity. And yet it’s been anything but solid, in form or meaning. It’s been split, carted about, fragmented, broken and rejoined, reinstalled at the Plymouth waterfront, canopied, repaired. It has endured the changing forces of nature and American political culture. Its precious pieces have spread far and wide, across the Atlantic and to the shores of the Pacific, and they’ve been further disseminated through print and pixels, extending the Mother Rock’s power and reach. It’s clear that Plymouth Rock and its mobile relics still speak to us, in a voice that is both constant and changing.

Matthew Dennis is professor of history and environmental studies at the University of Oregon. He is the author or editor of five books, including Red, White, and Blue Letter Days: An American Calendar, and is currently at work on American Relics and the Politics of Public Memory. He wrote this article for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

The Long American Tradition of Not Feeling Particularly Thankful for Thanksgiving

Clay model of Pilgrim figure with turkey and axe on a white background
Getty Images

If you’re someone who feels a sense of angst, foreboding, or misery about this time of year, take heart: American history is on your side

Do you have complicated feelings about Thanksgiving? Maybe your ancestors were among this continent’s indigenous peoples, and you have good reason to be rankled by thoughts of newly arrived English colonists feasting on Wamapanoag-procured venison, roasted wild turkey, and stores of indigenous corn. Or maybe Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a holiday season that brings with it the intricate emotional challenges of memory, home, and family.

If you’re someone who feels a sense of angst, foreboding, or misery about this time of year, take heart: American history is on your side.

The truth of our history is that only a small minority of the early English emigrants to this country would have been celebrating as the New England Puritans did at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621.

A thousand miles south, in Virginia and the Carolinas, the mood and the menu would have been drastically different — had there ever been a Thanksgiving there. Richard Frethorne, an indentured servant in the Virginia colony during the 1620s, wrote in a letter: “Since I came out of the ship, I never ate anything but peas, and loblollie (that is, water gruel).”

And don’t imagine for a second that those peas Frethorne was gobbling down were of the lovely, tender green garden variety dotted with butter. No, in the 1620s, Frethorne and his friends would have subsisted on a grey field pea resembling a lentil.

“As for deer or venison,” Frethorne wrote , “I never saw any since I came into this land. There is indeed some fowl, but we are not allowed to go and get it, but must work hard both early and late for a mess of water gruel and a mouthful of bread and beef.”

Frethorne’s letter is a rare surviving document reflecting the circumstances of the majority of English colonists who came to North America in the 17th century. The New England Puritans, after all, comprised only 15 to 20 percent of early English colonial migration.

Not only did the majority of English colonial migrants eat worse than the Puritans, but also their prayers (had they said any) would have sounded decidedly less thankful.

“People cry out day and night,” Frethorne wrote, “Oh! That they were in England without their limbs — and would not care to lose any limb to be in England again, yea though they beg from door to door.”

English migrants in Virginia had good reason not to feel grateful. Most came unfree, pushed out of England by big economic forces that privatized shared pastures and farmlands and pushed up the prices of basic necessities. By the 17th century, more than half of the English peasantry was landless. The price of food shot up 600 percent, and firewood by 1,500 percent.

Many peasants who were pushed off their homelands built makeshift settlements in the forests, earning reputations as criminals and thieves. Others moved to the cities, and when the cities proved no kinder, they signed contracts promising seven years of hard labor in exchange for the price of passage to the Americas, and were boarded onto boats.

A trip to Virginia cost Frethorne and others like him six months salary and took about 10 weeks. One quarter to one half of new arrivals to Virginia and the Carolinas died within one year due to diseases like dysentery, typhoid, and malaria. Others succumbed to the strain of hard labor in a new climate and a strange place — an adjustment process the English described as “seasoning.” Only 7% of indentures claimed the land that they had been promised.

Most of these common English migrants did not read or write, so vivid and revealing letters like Frethorne’s are rare. But in the research for my book Why We Left: Songs and Stories from America’s First Immigrants, I learned how English migrants viewed their situation through the songs they sang about the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Those songs survived hundreds of years by word of mouth before they were written down in the twentieth century.

These were not songs of thankfulness — not by a long shot. They were ballads full of ghastly scenes of the rejection, betrayal, cruelty, murder, and environmental ruin that had driven them out of England — and of the seductive but false promises that drew them to America. These 17th century songs planted the seeds for a new American genre of murder and hard luck ballads that was later picked up and advanced by singers like Johnny Cash, whose ancestors, like mine, were among those early hard luck migrants from England to America.

So if you find yourself a little blue this holiday season, take your marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes with a liberal dose of the Man In Black, and reassure yourself that you are a part of a long, long American tradition.

Joanna Brooks is Associate Dean of Graduate and Research Affairs at San Diego State University and author of Why We Left: Untold Stories and Songs of America’s First Immigrants (Minnesota, 2013). She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Meet the Woman Who Invented Your Thanksgiving Meal

Thanksgiving plate
Getty Images

This vision of the overflowing feast represented mid-19th century ideals of the woman’s role in creating a perfect home

Thanksgiving betrays a need — which we see throughout American history — to create a shared national identity. And, in this case, we have addressed that hunger by creating shared food traditions. Because very little is known about what actually happened at the “first Thanksgiving,” we’ve been free to commemorate it based on what we’ve needed it to look like over time.

Most of what is known about the foods of the “first Thanksgiving” is based on what foods were common at that time in the region, and a letter written by Edward Winslow to a friend in England describing the feast in 1621. Winslow wrote that Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Colony sent men out to hunt wildfowl (most likely goose or duck) while Wampanoag Indians brought deer to the feast. While turkeys were plentiful in New England in the 1620s, historians agree that it is unlikely that they were the centerpiece of the “first Thanksgiving.” Turkeys were hard to catch and the meat was tough. Fish, however, would have been plentiful and almost certainly part of any harvest celebration.

Cranberries were native to New England and would have been in the native diet in the 1620s, so they could have been part of the Thanksgiving meal, too. We also know that pumpkins, a type of squash, were eaten in 1620s New England, though there was no flour and hence no pies.

With very little historical basis on which to create a shared national holiday, America needed someone to tell them how the holiday should be celebrated. And Sarah Josepha Buell Hale was just the woman for the job. Hale was the editor of Godey’s Ladies Book, a very popular women’s magazine of the mid-19th century.

She first wrote about the Thanksgiving meal in her novel Northwood: A Tale of New England, published in 1827. She described a “lordly” roast turkey at the head of the table, “sending forth the rich odor of its savory stuffing.” Her meal included “a sirloin of beef, flanked on either side by a leg of pork and a joint of mutton,” and “pies of every description known in Yankee land.”

This vision of the overflowing feast represented mid-19th century ideals of the woman’s role in creating a perfect home and her writings created the “classic” American Thanksgiving ideal. As the United States was divided by the Civil War, Hale wrote a letter to President Lincoln urging him to make the day a national event, one that would bring Americans together. On October 3, 1863, Lincoln did just that.

As America entered the 20th century, Americans tweaked their Thanksgiving food traditions to reflect the modern vision of America. Progress, innovation, and technology all became part of the Thanksgiving table. Cranberries too delicate to transport long distances from New England started getting packaged and canned in 1912, under the name Ocean Spray Preserving Company. Now cranberries could enjoy a longer shelf life and become fixtures on the Thanksgiving table far away from cranberry bogs. The vast majority of pumpkins grown in America today are turned into canned pumpkin puree, which takes away the need to bake and mash a real pumpkin for pie. So nowadays our Thanksgiving feast is as much a tribute to the mid-20th-century modernist ideal as it is to a 19th-century idealized view of our 17th-century origin story.

My Thanksgiving meal this year is going to be a mash-up. I can’t give up the canned cranberry sauce, even though locavores might shudder at the idea. But I’ve also ordered a “heritage” turkey — a bird that has more in common with a wild turkey than a Butterball — and added fish to the menu as a way to give those around my dinner table a taste of what the Pilgrims might have tasted back then. And I’m also going to add some mutton, as a nod to Hale’s Northwood feast. Thanksgiving not only reflects who Americans are, but also how creative we can be in putting new twists on old experiences.

Susan Evans is program director of the American Food History Project at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. She originally wrote this piece for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Serial: What to Watch, Hear and Read If You’re Obsessed with the Podcast

HBO's "True Detective" Season 1 / Director: Cary Fukunaga
JIm Bridges—Jim Bridges/HBO

From Blood and Money to Love and Radio, here's what to do in between episodes of Serial

Serialthe addictive podcast from the team at This American Life — investigates the tragic story of the murder of Hae Min Lee and the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the crime. Each week, a little more of the story is told as host Sarah Koenig unravels the clues, guiding listeners through hours of interviews, cell phone records, and courtroom transcripts, trying to get to the truth — or at least to a better understanding of what happened.

One problem with Serial, though, is that it only comes out once a week and for many fans, gets gobbled up in one 45-minute listening session. That leaves a lot of time without Serial. Here’s what to watch, read or listen to while you’re waiting for a new episode of the podcast — or after the series wraps in December.

Movies

1. The Paradise Lost Trilogy

The saga of the West Memphis Three is one of the most haunting true crime stories in American history. The story begins with the brutal killing of three 8 year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Three metal-head teenage boys were tried and convicted for what many considered to be a Satanic ritual. The trilogy of films follows the original trials and subsequent appeals along with widespread public doubt about the guilt of the West Memphis Three, as they came to be known.

2. The Imposter

In 1994, a 13 year-old Texan boy named Nicholas Barclay disappeared. Three years later, someone claiming to be him surfaced in Spain. But was it really the missing boy or an imposter? The documentary follows the stranger-than-fiction tale of Frédéric Bourdin and the impressive lies that the charming stranger told to everyone who crossed his path.

3. The Staircase

Michael Peterson’s wife was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple’s home. Did she fall or was she pushed? French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s compelling, addictive mini-series strives to get to the bottom of what happened in their Durham, N.C., mansion, but creates more questions than answers in his searing, comprehensive documentary.

4. Dear Zachary

After Andrew Bagby was allegedly murdered by his very recent ex-girlfriend, Shirley Jane Turner, it was revealed that she was pregnant with Bagby’s child. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne wanted to create a “cinematic scrapbook” of his friend Bagby, intended as a keepsake for Bagby’s son. Instead, Kuenne’s film captured the tragic events surrounding Turner’s arrest and became a compelling true crime documentary along the way.

Podcasts

1. Criminal

Each installment of Criminal tells a resolved criminal case — focusing on victims of crime, relationships with criminals, or just otherwise fascinating tales of criminal activity — all within a 15 to 20 minute time frame. It’s the purist’s true crime series with stories from prosecutors, crime reporters and others involved in the cases.

2. This American Life

Serial is the first spin-off from the popular radio show and podcast, and while the show is formatted differently, it’s similarly engaging. Each week (more or less) the radio show follows three or four stories, some real, some fictional, usually all related to a theme, and presents them in an easy-to-digest format. Stand-out episodes include the “The Giant Pool of Money”, which is an explainer of the sub-prime loan crisis and “Harper High School,” a two-part series on a modern urban high school. If those aren’t escapist enough, there’s always the one about the squirrel cop.

3. Love + Radio

Each episode of the podcast revolves around a theme that informs the show’s stories “from the seedy to the sublime.” The show plays like a cross between This American Life and Radiolab (which also has a great podcast) with engaging stories that are real or not, coupled with complex sound design. Highlights include their award-winning portrait of Jay Thunderbolt, a strip club manager.

4. StoryCorps

Filled with over 50,000 stories of real people, StoryCorps has something for everyone. The stories were collected as part of one of the largest oral histories in existence for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, The stories are unveiled each week on NPR and released as a podcast that shares extraordinary stories from the lives of ordinary people.

Television

1. The Affair

The Wire’s Dominic West stars as a married man having the titular affair with a waitress played by the enchanting, sly-eyed Ruth Wilson. The story unfolds from a his-and-hers perspective, with the truth lying somewhere in between their memories of the events. The show’s first season is still unraveling, so it’s hard to know if it will live up to viewers’ expectations — but so far the show has set the bar very high.

2. Broadchurch

David Tennant (yes, the tenth Doctor) stars as a detective trying to resolve the murder of a young child in a small town, where everyone has secrets and no one seems to want to uncover the truth. Poignant performances and a devastating conclusion made the show a hit.

3. True Detective

HBO’s compelling detective show casts Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as an odd couple of detectives trying to crack a string of brutal murders with strange supernatural overtones. It was one of the buzziest shows of the year and if you’re a Serial fan, you should get caught up before the show reboots with Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell for season two.

4. Top of the Lake

Elisabeth Moss plays a Sydney-based detective who returns to her small New Zealand town and gets embroiled in a missing person case. Acclaimed filmmaker Jane Campion created the series, which brings a compelling female lead with complicated back story, a tough 12-year old girl who’s nobody’s victim, and a female-driven cult to the typical crime drama.

5. Happy Valley

This Netflix original hasn’t gotten as much publicity as Orange is the New Black, but it’s a compelling British crime story. The tense drama follows a police captain trying to save a young woman kidnapped by the man who raped her own daughter.

Books

1. Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson

The death of socialite and oil heiress Joan Robinson Hill in 1969 made waves in Houston and far beyond as her husband was convicted of her murder and married his mistress. Hill’s death was only the beginning of the story, though, and Thompson covers every twist, turn and dark secret of the sordid tale.

2. People Who Eat Darkness: the Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry

Lucie Blackman was a 21-year-old Brit working at a “hostess bar” in Tokyo when she suddenly disappeared. Her father and sister flew to Japan to try and find out what happened to her. Parry, the Tokyo bureau chief for the Times of London, covered the case as it unfolded over months of investigations — and finally, over the course of the six year trial of the man accused of killing her.

3. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

The adventure writer turns his reporter’s eye on the horrifying double murder of a woman and her baby by two brothers convinced they received a commandment from God to commit the act. The story takes him deep into the heart of Mormon Fundamentalists, who defy the teachings of the Latter Day Saints and break the laws of state and country. It’s a darkly fascinating and ultimately unsettling tale.

4. The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy, the Shocking Inside Story by Ann Rule

Ann Rule is now one of the best known American true crime writers, but her fascination with true crime came from an unlikely source — she used to work at a suicide hotline with serial killer Ted Bundy. The book documents her relationship with Bundy, who she knew as a charismatic co-worker, but who was also a sadistic killer.

5. The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father . . . and Finding the Zodiac Killer by Gary L. Stewart

Gary L. Stewart set out to find his biological father, but that led him to a horrifying realization that his father may be the elusive Zodiac serial killer. It’s not just a hunch, though: During his hunt, Stewart turns up clues — including forensic evidence — that could conclusively point to his father as the notorious Zodiac Killer. It’s a sensational story that crafts a compelling case and a disconcerting portrait of a murder.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser