Have a Happy Turkey Day

And be thankful

Thursday is Thanksgiving, which is also affectionately called “Turkey Day.”

This year Thanksgiving marks the 150th anniversary of its settled place on the American calendar.  On Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing the fourth Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. He issued the proclamation on Oct. 3 for a reason.

Exactly 74 years earlier, on Oct. 3, 1789, President George Washington had proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. Lincoln's 1863 proclamation nationalized the date. Prior to his doing so, states celebrated their day of thanksgiving on various dates of their choosing.

Coincidentally, Lincoln's proclamation also came precisely three months after the Union Army's victory at Gettysburg; something for which he was profoundly thankful. Perhaps a more important fact is that he made the proclamation in the middle of the Civil War. At such a time — a time of bloodshed, great risks and fervor — it would likely have seemed petty, perhaps even unpatriotic, to oppose the president regarding such a matter.

Imagine if such a proclamation were made today. Some groups would stamp and holler that the federal government was usurping the role of the state governments. Other groups would claim the president was treading on the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion.

“How dare he suggest that there is someone or something we should be thanking,” they'd complain.

Today such a proclamation would likely be tied up in the courts for years.

Most Thanksgiving articles center on one of three topics. There is the fond memory type, about family gatherings. This is the “over the river and through the woods” theme. Such a theme seems inappropriate for a political column. Let's face it, in politics nobody ever gets out of the woods.

Then there is the “time to be thankful” theme. We'll touch on that briefly later.

Last, but not least in terms of volume, there are the articles that focus on Thanksgiving food. These feature recipes and ideas for seasonal munchies, etc. This year there are especially good reasons to choose this theme. In particular the focus should be on the traditional Thanksgiving fare: turkey.

First, we'll submit a precautionary warning. Readers should at no point think of Obamacare while reading this section of the column. Got it? Don't you dare think of Obamacare.

Let's start with the basics. What is a turkey?

Here's the first definition: “a large, gallinaceous bird of the family Meleagrididae, especially Meleagris gallopavo, of America, that typically has green, reddish-brown, and yellowish-brown plumage of a metallic luster and that is domesticated in most parts of the world.”

On Thursday, try asking your sister-in-law to pass the Meleagris gallopavo and see what happens. If she calmly replies, “white meat or dark?” you have a somewhat unusual family.

However, the large gallinaceous bird of America, the meat of which is traditionally the main course at Thanksgiving dinner, is not the only definition of a “turkey.” The principle slang definition of the word means: “a flop, a failure, a poor and unsuccessful theatrical production.”

Don't you dare think of Obamacare.

Another slang phrase is “cold turkey.” No, this doesn't refer to a cold Meleagris gallopavo sandwich with mayonnaise. “Cold turkey” is the technique of quitting something by abruptly stopping.

The term could be applied to the use of drugs, such as tobacco or alcohol. It might also be applied to people who finally stop trying futilely to access an unresponsive website.

Don't you dare think of Obamacare.

Finally, we have the phrase “talk turkey,” which means to talk frankly. So here it goes: This Thanksgiving we should be thankful that, in spite of lunacy in high places, we still have much more to lose than others ever had to begin with.

(Editor’s Note: Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential. He is a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not represent viewpoints of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy or Michigan Capitol Confidential.)