Thursday, November 24, 2011

Merci Donnant & Happy Thanksgiving

The late, great Art Buchwald.
In 1952 while living in Paris and writing for the then New York Herald Tribune, the brilliant columnist, Art Buchwald, wrote this column explaining Thanksgiving to the French. 
It has been reprinted, I have no idea how many times, by the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Every time I read his "translation" of the quintessential, non-denominational North American holiday, I still laugh. I hope you will too. I also hope, having properly credited sources and the late author, I'm allowed to re-print it in this space.
Since I am running a non-profit organization here at A Femme d'Un Certain Age, maybe I'm OK.
For those of you celebrating, I hope you have a warm, wonderful, loving feast and Merci Donnant.
While we're on the subject of thankfulness, I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am for all of you. You have changed my life. Merci, merci, merci.
This confidential column was leaked to me by a high government official in the Plymouth colony on the condition that I not reveal his name.
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant .
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims ( Pelerins ) who fled from l'Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World ( le Nouveau Monde ) where they could shoot Indians ( les Peaux-Rouges ) and eat turkey ( dinde ) to their hearts' content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine ) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai ) in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them to grow corn ( mais ). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pelerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins' crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.
Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilometres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant :
"Go to the damsel Priscilla ( allez tres vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth ( la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action ( un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe ), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.
"I am a maker of war ( je suis un fabricant de la guerre ) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar ( vous, qui tes pain comme un etudiant ), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden."
Although Jean was fit to be tied ( convenable tres emballe ), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow ( rendue muette par l'tonnement et las tristesse ).
At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: "If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?" ( Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance ?)

Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ( Chacun a son gout. )
And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes and, for the only time during the year, eat better than the French do.
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fete and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great feast possible.


kathy peck said...

A great laugh and such a wonderful and charming column this Thanksgiving morning. Our kids are scattered this year, so we're going with my mother and some of her friends to her country club. A bit down about the whole thing, but this really amused me. Thanks Tish!

kathy peck said...

I'll be the second comment too. Art Buchwald had a summer home in the same place that we do. I had the pleasure of being at several dinner parties with him, and a more charming man, I've yet to meet.

Frugal Scholar said...

I was going to post this on my blog, but now I don't have to. Sent it to my son who is an assistant in a lycee.

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

I always enjoy reading this charming story about Thanksgiving. I happen to be a direct descent of John and Priscilla Alden.

SewingLibrarian said...

Despite its being published everywhere, I had not read this. Merci, Tish!

Susan Tiner said...

Merci! So charming. I would have read it Thanksgiving day but was so consumed with family festivities I had to put down blog reading for awhile.

Thanks for posting the story.

Anonymous said...

Great website, looks very clean and organized. Keep up the good work! antibacterial

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