There's no question that Turkey Day is one of the most boring holidays Americans have. Since we stopped hunting the turkeys ourselves and running Native Americans out of their rightful land, Thanksgiving hasn't really been able to compete with the aura of tasty fear around Halloween or the holy greed of Christmas.
Fortunately, Thanksgiving can be just as horrifying as the other holidays, if you know your history. Harvest festivals didn't used to be about stuffing your face and watching football. Here's some tales you can share with the family around the table.
"You know, Mom, no one could celebrate a successful harvest like the Aztecs. Rumored to have sacrificed 80,000 people during the grand reopening of their sun god's temple, the Aztecs knew how to have fun, but they knew when it was time to get to work.
Take the festival of Ochpaniztli, which ran through most of September. Everyone in the city grabbed a broom and got to work on those tricky corners. When the city was scrubbed clean and the corn harvested, a young woman was chosen, decapitated, and carefully flayed so a high priest could dance around in her skin. You know, kind of like that part in Silence of the Lambs when the guy stood in front of the mirror with a girl-skin suit and his junk tucked between his legs."
"No, really. For the next 20 fucking days, the high priest, wearing his rotting woman jacket to role play the part of a goddess on Earth, spent his time ripping the hearts out of prisoners to make sure the Aztec nation didn't get ripped off on the corn harvest next year. By the way, Ma, these potatoes are goddamn delicious."
A turkey breast. Strip off the skin casually.
"Fuck! Sorry about that, Ma. Cranberry sauce is a bitch to clean out of the carpet. Jesus, Dad, don't go out of your way to help her out or anything. You know, harvest time is always rough on the ladies. American women are trapped in the kitchen making turkey for their jealous mother-in-laws, Aztec girls were beheaded. Greek wives, though, they barely got to leave their house at all.
One of the few reasons they ever got away from the husband and kids was during the harvest festival of Thesmophoria. All married women were required to get the hell out of town, and spend three days camped in the wilderness honoring Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, with secret womanly ceremonies. No men were allowed.
Women didn't write in those days, so not much is known about what went down. Historians speculate that the women spent their time swearing ritualistically to cheer up the depressed goddess. Oh, and they carried around decayed pig parts.
See, the year before, they left slaughtered pigs and penises made of dough in deep trenches to symbolize the fertility of the earth. The women, having stayed away from sex for three days to remain pure, brought the rotten gunk out of the earth and spread it over the fields to make next year's crops grow."
Pull out a bread roll in the shape of a penis. You might have to order this from a special bakery ahead of time.
"Man, this turkey is a little dry. Got any more gravy over there? Thanks, Ma. You're a peach. Now, the Swedes? They took winter seriously. They knew months of killing cold and darkness were on the way. It doesn't surprise me that they sought supernatural help to get through it.
The sacrificial feast Blot was less focused on the harvest, and more on enlisting the support of the Norse gods. By sacrificing animals, eating the meat and sprinkling each other with the steaming blood, the Swedes believed that they were endowing their people with maegen, or the power of the gods.
Of course, it didn't always work. During the reign of King Domaldi, Sweden suffered a disastrous famine. First, they sacrificed oxen. The famine continued. The second year, they tried humans, and the famine got worse. The Swedes decided that the famine was King Domaldi's fault and killed him during the third year. After sprinkling his blood over the statues of the gods, the famine ended.
Pretty much any time nature turned on the Swedes, they killed a king. I admire that. By the way, dad, is it getting cold in here?"
Scoop some cranberry sauce into your palm. Squeeze it so that it drips down over your plate.
"Our harvest festival is about being thankful for having enough money to buy overpriced turkey. Maybe we thank God, maybe our parents, but like all harvest festivals, we're thanking someone. The Egyptians, they thanked the cock.
You see, a lot of these ceremonies are about fertility, too. Take the Egyptians. They were convinced that the fertility of the land and the fertility of humans were combined. In fact, their fertility god Min represented both. He also was never pictured without a raging hard-on. One of his symbols was a long, straight type of Egyptian lettuce that produced a milk-like substance when rubbed.
Before the harvesting began, the Egyptians sat down to a big, phallic feast and long, stiff poles were raised in the fields for naked men to climb. Meanwhile, the naked farmers, believing that the fields were the homes of angry spirits, wept in simulated grief to ward off supernatural vengeance as they cut the corn free."
If you can't figure out how to use a turkey neck on your own, we really can't help you.
"What? Jesus, Ma, of course I brought the pumpkin pie. I only forget shit when I'm rolling, and I don't roll on Thanksgiving.
You know who else has sweets after their harvest feasts? The Chinese. One of their legends says that 10 suns once circled the earth, burning all vegetation and killing hundreds of thousands. The archer Houyi shot down all but one of them, and the people and their harvests were saved. Deciding that he wanted to live forever, Houyi began grinding up a boy a day to make an immortality pill out of their pulverized bones.
On the 100th day, his wife Chang'e decided her husband might have gone completely goddamn sideways. She stole the pill, and is hiding out on the moon to this day.
So, to promote family togetherness under the harvest moon, the Chinese have been passing around "moon cakes" for almost a thousand years. The cakes are usually round or square, and have rabbits, moon women or Chinese ideograms carved into the crust. They symbolize long life, good luck and bloody revolution."
"Whoa, didn't I mention that? In the 14th century, the descendants of Genghis Khan ruled China, and had strict laws governing gathering in groups and communication. Legend says that the rebels spread rumors of a horrible disease that only special moon cakes could cure. Inside the cakes were hidden messages with the words 'Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the eight month.' The coordinated attack easily wiped out the vicious Mongol oppressors."
Pumpkin pie. Cut it very, very carefully, shooting furious looks at your father.
"Have a piece of pie, Dad. NO, NOT THAT PIECE."
You may also enjoy Ben Joseph's 10 Most Ridiculous Overseas Rip-Offs of American Films.
You may also enjoy Gavin Fyhrie's 5 Most Kick-Ass Apocalyptic Prophecies.