Friday, November 22, 2013


Lazy lump that I am, I am reposting this piece from two years ago. It still interests me that we have transitioned Thanksgiving from European traditions, Pilgrims or none. We will be having a leisurely Thanksgiving at our son and daughter-in-law's home. I'll bring one of the desserts - maybe the easy family favorite chocolate cake.

My sister and I were dressed as Gypsies.
They certainly were warm outfits.

         Many folks I know from other areas of New York City never heard of this, but where I was born in Queens, New York, we didn’t go out Trick-or-Treating on Halloween, we ragamuffins went ‘begging’ on Thanksgiving. In the morning we were dressed up as beggars or Gypsies, in whatever old clothes were usable, and we went from door to door asking “Anything for Thanksgiving?” I was only in the second grade when my family moved from the city out to the country wilds of Long Island’s Nassau County, but my city memories tell me that we came home with apples and oranges, nuts and cookies, and perhaps a cup cake to add to the bounty of the day.
        Some recall that the items collected were given, in turn, to the various churches to then be distributed to the poor. I don’t recall this. I do recall a lot of walnuts at the bottom of my bag.

St. Martin's Day in the Netherlands

The custom may have a connection to November 11th, Martinmas, the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, patron saint of beggars and the poor, or St. Catherine’s Day, November 25th, both of which dates are used by many European cultures to signify the end of autumn and the coming of winter.  On either or both days, depending on the country and culture, children would dress up - or down! - and go around the town, especially with lantern on St. Martin’s Day, singing appropriate songs and, in many places, receive donations of food or money to be brought to the church, or get sweets for themselves.  Many countries celebrated with large, festive meals.

        It’s a certainty that the ancestors of these children brought these customs with them when the emigrated here, especially to the east coast, and they were gradually merged with the Thanksgiving traditions already in place.  Depending on the ethnic makeup of a neighborhood, some or all of the traditions carried over.  I’m sure that the ‘large, festive meals’ were easily transferred to the last Thursday of November. 

       Halloween has become a big, commercial festival, costumes and treats galore, so I’m not too sure that children still go begging on Thanksgiving Day. They’ve probably still got a lot of loot left over from Halloween, and the lure of the Macy’s parade on the TV is just too enticing to miss. We adults fondly recall the simpler times of our younger years.  I suppose that today’s children will recall these days as being the simpler times - and I can’t begin to imagine the times in which they’ll be living in the future, when what today’s adults call ‘excessive’ will to our grandchildren be ‘simple‘. It boggles the mind!

Yes, this was me around age six. I was a curmudgeon even then.
I was often a bit snerty about having my picture taken.
Don't you love the look?  My older granddaughters call this
"the lemon look".


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