Tomorrow is Turkey Day, also known as Thanksgiving Day. It’s a day wrought with controversy, both historical and familial.

On the historical side, the origins of Thanksgiving are a bit dubious. Now, I’m not a historian, and my best American history friend isn’t close by to double check my facts, so just deal with the inaccuracies of my account. As a kid, I was taught that the first settlers struggled through the first winter, and the indigenous people shared their food with them to help them survive. Those first “pilgrims” celebrated the generosity by hosting a large dinner of turkeys, green bean casserole, and corn. They were joined by smiling faced “Indians” who were so happy to share their land and their food. That was the first Thanksgiving, and we’ve celebrated together ever since.

Well, as I grew older, I discovered that there were some slightly different versions and experiences, ahem. In addition, it wasn’t always a national holiday. One friend of mine, who works for the trivia site Sporcle, found out that while President George Washington implemented the first Thanksgiving, the exact date was sort of up to the President’s declaration. In some ways, President Abraham Lincoln is the one who actually established it as the last Thursday of November. Then President Franklin Roosevelt established the holiday shopping season, presumably to help boost economic recovery by encouraging citizens to shop more. Hmmmm that sounds like a familiar plan.

So, Thanksgiving has quickly become the kick-off day for the holiday shopping season for many of us.  I noticed that just after Halloween, Christmas decorations became available at the grocery stores. Cartons of Eggnog started shoving low-fat milk and soy milk out of the way on the dairy shelves. The once-reclusive pumpkin puree – and its mysterious cousin “pumpkin pie filling” – now occupies front and center of an end-cap and a center display. Tinsel and brightly coloured glass ornaments are creeping from Aisle 16 into the other aisles. I know that some of the foods are completely appropriate for Thanksgiving, but lots of the items are more Christmasy than Thanksgivingy.

And have I ranted about the advertising that constantly bombards me? I almost forgot that it was Thanksgiving and not Christmas that we’re leading up to. Sales, new clothes, fashion everywhere… I was torn between wishing I had more money and the feeling of disgust at all the materialism. And it all starts with Black Friday.

Black Friday is more of an event than Thanksgiving, I think. If you’re not familiar with this day, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, and it’s the day in which many retail businesses severely discount products in the hopes that people will shop…a lot. The stores will open eeeeeaaaaaaaaarrrrrly in the morning, and shoppers line up super duper early to be the first in line to get the largest selection of products and to get the store specials. One friend is going to a store at midnight after Thanksgiving dinner.

As a side note, Nordstrom did its own version of respecting Thanksgiving, but it is still participating in the Black Friday craziness too.

Even so, I’m not participating.

An Aside: A friend of mine has offered a great alternative to shopping and buying material things: she and her husband founded Live Your Love, a fair trade tea company whose profits go to support food and education in Sri Lanka, and they are encouraging people to consider spending their money at businesses that have a positive impact on the community – local or international. If you HAVE to shop, then you could at least check these guys out.

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving.

Allrecipes asked its bloggers and fans to participate in “Respect the Bird,” an effort to keep Thanksgiving’s focus on Thanksgiving and giving thanks. We do have almost 4 weeks to prepare for Christmas, after all. There are, as with any big pledge and movement, extreme ways to observe Thanksgiving, even boycotting businesses that participate in the Black Friday extravaganza. I probably won’t go so far to write-off my friends, family, and retail workers who do play a roll and buy a lot of things (or sell a lot), but I do get it. We do need to take advantage of the time to really observe Thanksgiving for what it is: Thanks and Giving.

Case in point: The embodiment of thanks and giving, Clay Gleb, an alumnus from Pepperdine University, manager at Vashon Island Thriftway, a grocery store on the island. The backstory: our alumni association did a call for donations to help the Union Gospel Mission meet their need for turkeys this year. It was really short notice, so there was no way to know if the UGM would receive donations from our alumni, because donors contacted the UGM on their own. Clay decided to donate in a more direct way: the grocery store donated 25 turkeys to the Mission over the weekend, so that they would have turkeys to distribute in time for the holiday.  At 20 bucks a bird, that’s a really nice gift.

So, tomorrow, when you get together with friends or family for Thanksgiving, try to focus on the thanks and the giving part and let the Christmas stuff happen later. I’m making a gluten-free cornbread dressing, and I’m pretty excited about it. I got hooked on cornbread dressing in Texas, and it’s really easy to make a gluten-free cornbread. The rest of the vegetables have change over the years, but I’ve settled on Mirepoix (say “mere-pwah”) of carrots, celery, and onions; cremini mushrooms, garlic, and herbs. I’ve added some chicken sausage, too. Should be good. Right before serving, I’m going to drizzle some turkey drippings over it all so that they take on the nice, savory, juicy flavor of the turkey.