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Le Jour de Merci Donnant

picture of John and Priscilla

While living in Paris and writing for the New York Herald Tribune in the early 1950's, Art Buchwald wrote a column to try to explain Thanksgiving to the French. Some of his translations are hilarious if you know French, and some probably meant little, if anything, to the French who read the article ... that is, unless they knew English also. His article has been reprinted often by a number of newspapers and has been posted on enough blogs that I think it's safe to print it here with copyright info and a link to a repost of the article in the Washington Post from whom I got it originally 15 years ago. Being a French teacher, I just had to put in the proper accent marks. ūüôā

À la Recherche du Temps Perdu
by Art Buchwald
Thursday, November 28 1996
The Washington Post

One of the most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant.

Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of pilgrims (Pèlerins) 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 Am√©ricaine) in a wooden sailing ship named the Mayflower (Fleur de Mai) in 1620. But while the P√®lerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the P√®lerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the P√®lerins was when they taught them how to grow corn (ma√Įs). They did this because they liked corn with their P√®lerins.

In 1623, after another harsh year, the P√®lerins' crops were so good they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more ma√Įs was raised by the P√®lerins than P√®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 Kilomètres Deboutish) and a shy young lieutenant named John (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 tr√®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 understand, 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 êtes pain comme un étudiant), 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 suited to win the heart of the maiden."

Although Jean was fit to be tied (convenable à être emballé), friendship prevailed over love and 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'étonnement et la tristesse).

At length she exclaimed, breaking 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?" ("O√Ļ est-il, le vieux Kilom√®tres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupr√®s de moi pour tenter sa chance?")

Jean said that Kilom√®tres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for such things. He staggered on, telling her what a wonderful husband Kilom√®tres would make. Finally, Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ("Chacun √† son go√Ľt.")

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 fête, and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilomètres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.

© 1996, The Washington Post Company


If you want to read all my Thanksgiving blog posts from the past, you can read them at http://blog.ivman.com/tag/thanksgiving

I hope you Americans all have a blessed Thanksgiving. You foreign readers will just have to eat your hearts out that you don't get to celebrate our distinctively American holiday.


"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving." ‚ÄĒ H.U. Westermayer

=^..^= =^..^=

If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?

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3 Comments on “Le Jour de Merci Donnant”

  1. #1 Melissa Endres
    on Nov 23rd, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Ahaha! Kilometres Deboutish! That just made my day. :o)

  2. #2 Cynde Sears
    on Nov 24th, 2011 at 7:08 am

    Merci bien, monsieur, pour avoir publie le chef d’ouevre de M. Buchwald! (I have no diacritical marks on my keyboard — sorry.) I have linked this to my Facebook page, as I was raised by a very literate father who insisted we read this every Thanksgiving. It still makes me laugh, and I thank you for posting it on such a lovely page accompanied by a perfectly a propos picture! Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. #3 Carrie
    on Nov 28th, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Oh dear! Let’s hope that not too many French people get their information about American Thanksgiving from this article! I wonder how many Americans could do a better job (in English). Hmmm.