Is that turkey permitted?

Published 12:28 am Friday, November 4, 2011

When the New England Pilgrims sat down for the first Thanksgiving, they likely never envisioned their new home, while prosperous, would become the place of unparalleled wealth and opportunity that it has blossomed into being.

Escaping religious persecution at home, economic hardship in their newfound lands and the burdens harsh and unforgiving winters, they overcame great odds and forged the foundation upon which our nation and Washington have been established and flourished.

Our industrious forefathers built their homes with their hands, grew their food in often-unfavorable conditions and governed themselves in as limited a way as possible. They invited their Native American brothers and sisters to sup with them in a great thanks to the aid and friendship those Native Americans had extended to their new neighbors. One can imagine the bounty they feasted on, from roasted turkey to fresh fruits to cornbread with churned butter and ample provision of apple pies, cranberry bread and candied yams.

The thought of that first Thanksgiving, where the Pilgrims celebrated the abundance their merciful God had enriched them with, triggered a thought in my mind. Would such a celebration be so easy to put together in our modern and supposedly enlightened time here in Washington in 2011? Sadly, I think not.

For starters, the Pilgrims would likely have had to obtain a city permit to hold the event in the first place, never mind if they wanted to put up tents and set up tables.  Surely, in this case, they would need to submit a scale drawing of the layout of their event months in advance and obtain City Council approval. Should ale be included with the event, as was almost certainly the case in the original Thanksgiving, they would have had to designate a separate beer garden area for its consumption and obtained additional permits.

The food itself would, of course, be inspected and subjected to regulation. One can imagine the health department requiring Mr. and Mrs. Pilgrim to attend a two-week, food-handling course to prepare the succulent turkey, stuffing and assorted sauces. Surely a Department of Agriculture official would need to approve any ovens used to bake the goodies that would be served. And then, of course, there are the regulations requiring the posting of ingredients for the bounty to be served. … Hopefully, the Pilgrims invested in a laser printer. Let’s also not forget that any game meat served or fish prepared would need to conform to the limits on catches and could only be harvested during sanctioned government seasons.

One would imagine that such an event would draw a large number. So, naturally, another permit would be needed to close the roads and provide for the direction of vehicles to predesignated parking areas. And, of course, since the Pilgrims would be serving food, they would be required to provide port-a-potties at the direction of the bureaucracy.

If they chose to advertise their event, of course, they would have to obtain further permission to hang banners and signs and could only hand out fliers in certain places. If any music were to be played, there would be noise ordinances to comply with and perhaps a permit or two to obtain if the event were to go on all night.

Of course, some of the regulations, perhaps all of them, we have created for ourselves are necessary. But the example of the first Thanksgiving should give us pause. Do we really want the government this involved in a simple event?

The story of the first Thanksgiving should serve as a reminder to each of us that although times are bleak, they have been worse and our ability as Americans and as a community to rise from the ashes of despair is endless. It should also remind us that we don’t need to regulate ourselves to the ends of the Earth.

Gary Ceres is co-owner of I Can’t Believe It’s a Book Store in downtown Washington.