Thanksgiving Day: the unknown Mexican origin of the traditional turkey that is prepared in the US

The traditional turkey eaten on Thanksgiving Day in the United States has its origins in what is now central Mexico.
The traditional turkey eaten on Thanksgiving Day in the United States has its origins in what is now central Mexico.

This Thursday the Thanksgiving Day, also know as Thanksgiving, which is considered the most traditional holiday in the United States. On this day, nine out of ten citizens of the United States sit at the dining room table to share food with their family and friends.

Even if they have to travel several kilometers, families seek to get together to eat together baked turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry gravy, cornbread, among other foods. Although this meal is traditional in the United States, little is known that the main dish of this day, the Turkey, Had his origin in the center of what is now Mexico.

The scientific name of this animal is Meleagris gallopavo mexicana and is the species from which the modern turkey and was raised for over 2,000 years in Mesoamerica, the region that ranges from central Mexico to northern Costa Rica.

Andres Medina, ethnologist at the Institute of Anthropological Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and co-author of “Huexolotl: present and past”, declared to the BBC London that “the turkey is of Mesoamerican origin, absolutely.”

After the arrival of the Spanish and the conquest in Mexico, the turkey was taken to Europe and from there it spread to other parts of the world.  EFE / EPA / MICHAEL REYNOLDS / POOL
After the arrival of the Spanish and the conquest in Mexico, the turkey was taken to Europe and from there it spread to other parts of the world. EFE / EPA / MICHAEL REYNOLDS / POOL

And it is that archaeologists have found evidence in the region of central Mexico, in particular, in the area of ​​influence of the Teotihuacan culture, in the classic period from 300 to 900 AD, where the bird was more established. “Appears from the classical time of Teotihuacan and there it spreads to other parts of the center, and in the Mayan area (southern Mexico) very late. It was a gift from the center to the commercial routes of Central America, ”Medina explained to the media.

The animal was named “huexolotl” in the tongue nahuatl, which was spoken by the Mexica, a people descended from the Aztecs. The name given to the animal comes from the terms huey, which means big or giant, and Xólotl, which was a deity of the Mexica culture.

In pre-Hispanic cosmology, there is The legend of the suns, in which it is said that Xolotl “He is a god who was transformed into a turkey when fleeing from a sacrifice,” Medina told the BBC. He explained that it was a very important animal in the sacrifices that were made in agricultural rituals, and later it was consumed in many ways.

Currently, the Turkey or turkey It is a dish that is customarily eaten at various celebrations in Mexico, cooked at Christmas dinners in the oven, mainly in cities, and in a mole sauce at weddings in more traditional towns.

The turkey was established in the area where the Teotihuacan culture developed.  Photo: (INAH)
The turkey was established in the area where the Teotihuacan culture developed. Photo: (INAH)

Despite being a bird raised for centuries in central Mexico, and some parts of Central America, the turkey or turkey was known to the rest of the world from colonial times in the New Spain, which began in 1521 with the conquest of the Spanish.

The latter took the animal to Europe, and from there it began to spread throughout the rest of the continent and beyond, which led the bird to be known in different ways than the Castilianization of “huaxolotl”.

One of the most curious data about the name of the animal in other countries, is the name that was given in England, where merchants brought him from the Turkish region of what is now Istanbul and for this he was named turquey coq, or turkish hen.

Later, the pilgrims who emigrated from England They brought the turkey back to America in the 17th century to the territory that is now the United States. The tradition of Thanksgiving Day dates back to 1621, when when the first colonizers of the northeast of the country offered a joint dinner with the local indigenous people to celebrate their first harvest in America. Despite this, it was not until 1863 that it was a national holiday.

In the 20th century, more rituals related to Thanksgiving. Harry S. Truman, who was president of the United States, received a copy of the National Turkey Federation of the USA to celebrate Thanksgiving in 1947, started the tradition of the presidential turkey that would continue year after year.

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