Food & Drink

Fellow Filipinos, You Have the Right to Celebrate Thanksgiving and Eat Turkey

There used to be a Thanksgiving holiday in the Philippines.
IMAGE malacanang.gov.ph / freepik.com
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Every year, it's the same story. On the fourth Thursday of November, there's an influx of turkey in Metro Manilafrom grocery stores selling Butterball to chefs offering pre-prepped dinners to restaurants launching turkey specials. And every year, there's a flood of skeptics questioning all of this, telling happy turkey-fed folk that they're experiencing an "identity crisis" because, really,no one can eat turkey just because they like it.

The history of Thanksgiving can be traced back to many events, but the one most of us know about is the 1621 celebration at Plymouth, when pilgrims and Puritans from England enjoyed a feast over a good harvest. Other countries also hold their own version because it is, after all, a day about giving thanksand you don't even need a holiday for that. 

Still, some people can't take it. The "occasion" alone has disturbing beginnings: The settlers' arrival caused the genocide of 90% of the "savage" native American population and led to centuries of war. A more simplistic though frequent argument, however, is just the fact that regardless of all the violence, it's a commercial holiday with no roots in the Philippines. 

Wrong.

According to malacanang.gov.ph, Thanksgiving was celebrated for decades in the Philippines during the American Occupation, with the first feast held on November 24, 1898 and the centerpiece dish was dubbed "Dewey's Turkey." 


The first Thanksgiving dinner on November 24, 1898.

"The Philippines, being an American colony and part of the territory of the United States, celebrated the holiday annually, also in November. American Governors-General would issue proclamations declaring Thanksgiving a holiday celebrated by Filipinos nationwide," says the report. When the Commonwealth was established, President Manuel L. Quezon officially declared it a national holiday, which it continued to be until war broke out. 

Formal celebrations stopped during the Japanese occasion, except when Prime Minister Hideki Tojo visited the country and a feast was held in Luneta in gratitude of "the great Japanese empire." After the war, Thanksgiving was once again considered a public holiday--all the way up to the Marcos regime. The date, however, was changed to September 21, 1972 (the unofficial beginning of Martial Law). 

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According to the government website, "Thanksgiving became associated with Martial Law. After the 1986 EDSA Revolution and the fall of the  Marcos dictatorship, the Thanksgiving Day tradition in the Philippines ceased."

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About The Author
Sasha Lim Uy
Managing Editor, EsquireMag.ph
Sasha eats to live and lives to eat. For five years, she handled SPOT.ph's food section and edited the last two installments of its Top 10 Food books. She also recently participated at the Madrid Fusion Manila as curator.
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