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Thanksgiving: A day for food, football and foreign relations

Thanksgiving has sneaked up on us again, and before we know it we'll be consuming enough gravy to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool three times over. Thanksgiving is wonderful because it is a day of being thankful for what we have, and it's followed a month later by a holiday in which we're thankful for everything people have bought us.

Thanksgiving was first celebrated by Pilgrims arriving at the New World. They wanted to celebrate the fact that they were still alive after eating nothing but rats and undercooked boot leather during an extremely long boat trip. The adults in the group were also celebrating the end of a five-month period during which their children said nothing but, "Are we there yet?"

The Pilgrims weren't sure how they wanted to celebrate the new holiday, so they looked to the Bible and their friends, the Native Americans, for help. The Native Americans suggested dining on buffalo tongues. The Pilgrims took the advice but eventually substituted "buffalo tongues" with "yams." They then found a passage in the Bible that read, "The Lord will cometh with large quantities of bright red, soul-devouring fire." The Pilgrims simply substituted "soul-devouring fire" with "cranberry sauce," and they had themselves a holiday.

It seems every family has their own traditions for this special occasion. Some families have ham instead of turkey, while others cover the first-born male in chocolate pudding. No matter how you choose to celebrate this holiday of clogged arteries, it is perfectly acceptable.

My family actually has two unusual traditions. One is taking a hike Thanksgiving morning and the other is Russians. Our hike is usually over a bridge to a small island in the James River. We do this in hopes that one of our guests will break their ankle, and we won't have to feed as many people.

The hike is great fun and often thins out the ranks a considerable amount. One has to qualify to eat Thanksgiving dinner with my family. We don't just give away spots at our table.

Your chances will be greatly enhanced, however, if you're Russian. For several years my Mom has been active in helping Jewish Russian immigrants set up a new life here in the land of opportunity and coffee shops. We usually have between two and 80 Russians over to our house to show them a good Thanksgiving. Obviously, there is no Thanksgiving in Russia because there is no American football, a crucial ingredient of the holiday.

The conversations at our Thanksgiving table are quite intriguing. Here's a brief sample.

Boris: What is Pilgrim?

Me: Uh, people that looked a little like the Amish.

Boris: What is Amish?

Me: Uh, you know. They have the wagons, and ...

Boris: Oh, you mean donkeys?

Me: Not exactly. They look like Abraham Lincoln. Do you know who he is?

Boris: Ah, yes. He stole my radio last month.

Me: No, that's not ...

Boris: Yes he did! He's jerk. Well, then I don't like Pilgrims.

Me: Me either.

Boris: What is stock market?

I am not trying to imply that the Russians aren't smart -- most of them know more about America and our system of government than I do. I am simply saying that there definitely is a bit of a language barrier.

Following the meal, my family and I usually spend about three hours trying to teach the Russians the rules to American football.

Me: They try to get the ball to the other end of the field.

Alexander: Can they use automobile?

Me: No, but they can use men that weigh as much as automobiles. If they get the ball to the other end, they get six points, but they can get another point if they kick the ball through the yellow poles or they can get two more points if they get the ball in the end zone a second time.

Alexander: So this makes possible to get 20,000 points in one chance?

Me: I've never really thought of it that way.

Alexander: Is vodka involved?

Me: Only after they've won the game. So right now we need to cheer for our team.

Alexander: Rip out spines of other team and show bleeding bodies to wife and children! Is this good cheer?

Me: Excellent.

Alexander: This whole experience is so ... What is word?

Me: Constipating?

Alexander: Yes. This is so constipating. All of America is constipating.

Me: I couldn't agree more.

Thanksgiving is a crucial holiday because after all, what would America be if there wasn't at least one day a year that includes gorging ourselves until pure fat oozes out our ears, watching grown men knock the life out of each other, and sleeping for about 12 hours? Actually, I think I do that every Sunday.