One day a shepherd boy was out walking with his sheep along the Champs Elyse'es in Paris when he tripped over a Bouche Noe l. In anger he kicked it and found this scroll underneath explaining Thanksgiving to the French.
Victor Hugo translated the document, and since then it has provided enlightenment to generations of French citizens who never understood what Americans did in November. The original scroll rests in a glass pavilion designed by I.M. Pei at the Louvre.
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant.
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was started by a group of Pilgrims (Pe`lerins) 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 named the Mayflower, or Fleur de Mai, in 1620. But while the Pe`lerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pe`lerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pe`lerins was when they taught them how to grown corn (mai s). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pe`lerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pe`lerins' crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mai s was raised by the Pe`lerins than Pe`lerins were killed by the Peaux-Rouges.
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 Kilome`tres 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 tre`s 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 e~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 a` e~tre 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'e'tonnement 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 Kilome`tres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupre`s de moi pour tenter sa chance?")
Jean said that Kilome`tres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for those things. He staggered on, telling her what a wonderful husband Kilome`tres would make. Finally, Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ("Chacun a` son gou~t").
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 fe~te, and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilome`tres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.