Parlez-vous Thanksgiving?

November 27, 1991|By Art Buchwald

When Columbus landed in America he came across a large piece of parchment nailed to a tree. Much to his disgust it was written in French. If valid, it meant that the French had discovered the New World before he did. He hid the paper in a pumpkin where it was recently found by a Boy Scout from Bayonne,N.J.

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.

Every year on "le 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 shy young 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.

Although Jean was fit to be tied ("convenable a etre 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'etonnement et la 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 her 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 "grand fete," and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to "Kilometres Deboutish," who made this great day possible.

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