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Taxes, deer and turkey: Virginia's historic Thanksgiving tradition

You didn't really think I'd let Thanksgiving go by without some mention of taxes, did you?

To make sure U.S. tax geeks are thankful this holiday, I'm pleased to report that an historic Thanksgiving tax continues to be paid each November in Virginia. The Washington Post notes:

In a ceremony that traces its roots to a 333-year-old treaty between Native Americans and the British crown, chiefs of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Indian tribes gave Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) two deer and a turkey in lieu of taxes.

The animals were shot Tuesday on the tribes' reservations in King William County - the oldest reservations in the United States - and presented to the governor on Wednesday, trussed up on two tree boughs, on the brick driveway of the executive mansion in Richmond.

The practice began in 1677 when Virginia's Indian tribes agreed to deliver 20 beaver skins to the governor of the colony.

Although there aren't any records to show whether the ceremony has been performed every year since, the Post says that historians have found evidence of the tax payment dating to the 19th century.

Menu musings: The hunt's tax payment also brings up another holiday question: Why don't we eat venison on Thanksgiving?

Valerie Strauss, writing for the Washington Post's The Answer Sheet, says that one historical account of the original Thanksgiving dinner says venison and some sort of fowl was served.

As for the menu most Americans enjoy today, Strauss says we can thank 19th century author and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale. Having read about the 1621 feast, Hale decided to use it as a model for an annual holiday.

She published in the then-popular Godey's Lady's Book recipes for turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie, starting traditions that had nothing to do with the colonists.

On a more humane note: Obama continued the White House's more modern Thanksgiving season tradition, begun in 1989, of pardoning a pair of turkeys on Wednesday.

Although the President got a bit political by quipping that "it feels pretty good to stop at least one shellacking this November," the overall tone, as is usually the case in this annual photo-op ceremony, was light-hearted.

The two birds, Apple (pictured above) and "feathered understudy" Cider, now will live with the rest of the livestock at Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate south of the nation's capital.

The First Family also received two birds that weren't as lucky. The Obamas donated the ready-to-roast turkeys to Martha's Table, a D.C. charity that feeds the homeless.

If you, too, are inclined to give to food-oriented organizations this holiday or any time of the year, you can find some suggestions in my earlier post about hunger in the United States and how to help alleviate it.

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