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Wild Turkeys, native to the eastern United States were a part of the first Thanksgiving feast and since then, turkeys have remain an important Thanksgiving symbol. Male Turkeys are known as Tom Turkeys.

Turkey - The Thanksgiving Symbol

The Thanksgiving celebrations would be bland and not legendary if the feast did not include the turkey. The plump and nicely roasted turkey makes one of the delicacies of the main course at the dinner table during Thanksgiving celebrations. Being one of the symbols of Thanksgiving, the association of turkey with the festival is much deeper. It reminds one of the four wild fowls eaten at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. A member of the Meleagrididae family, native to America, turkey is one of the two domesticated birds, originating in the New World, primarily in northern Mexico and eastern United States. So much is the significance of turkey on the festival of Thanksgiving that the occasion is sometimes known as Turkey Day.

One can easily recognize the bird from its characteristic brown features and buff-colored feathers on its tail and wings. The male turkeys are referred to as tom turkeys and are bigger and brighter than their female counterparts, known as hens. Male turkey boasts of more colorful plumage as well, the brightly colored fold of skin hanging from its throat at the base of its bill known as the 'wattle' and prominent tuft of bristles on its chest projecting downward, resembling the beard of a man. The domesticated turkey weighs about twice as much as its wild cousin, and bears larger and broader breast. Mexico is credited with domesticating the turkey initially, with the tradition being transported to Europe in the early 16th century. Since its meat is delicious and it lays eggs of high quality, it soon became an important part of the poultry farm.

The common American breeds of turkey are the Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, and Bourbon Red. References prove that turkeys have been part of the Thanksgiving feast since the days of the pilgrims' first Thanksgiving as mentioned by Governor Bradford in his book and a letter sent to England by another pilgrim who narrated that four of the Governor's men, who went for fowling, came back with turkeys, ducks, geese, and swans. The Native Americans symbolize the turkey for various reasons. Some tribes call it Earth Eagle because of its association with Maka, Mother Earth, while some other tribes refer it as Turkey South Eagle, Night Eagle, or Give-Away Eagle, as it bestows all its possessions to other people and sacrifices to help them.

Not just the flesh, but all other parts of the turkey are used. While the flesh is nourishing and appetizing, the feathers are considered for ceremonial and other use, and the bones transformed into whistles. The turkey is also believed to have three different legends associated with it. The first two are that the turkey helped in created the world, showed humans how to raise corn and fight off evil spirits, and how the gobbler outsmarted the owl and challenged eagle in the battle. Legend has it that the turkey was the first bird to make attempts of raising the sun in the sky, which is why his head is always burnt. Legends are many and so are its celebrations, but turkey remains an inseparable icon for all Thanksgiving dinners.