As we gather round our tables and TVs later this month in celebration of the uniquely American holiday that is Thanksgiving, let’s take a minute to learn why we’re doing so and take another minute to actually be thankful, even in this most unusual and tumultuous year.
Appropriately, the very first Thanksgiving was preceded by a series of tumultuous events, starting in September of 1620 when a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England carrying 102 passengers. The group consisted of an assortment of religious separatists who were seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and were joined by others lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in a New World. You could say the Mayflower was filled with the original faithful and capitalists.
After a very treacherous 66 day trip, the Mayflower dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod and one month later crossed Massachusetts Bay where who we now call Pilgrims established a village at Plymouth. It still was rough going though, as during that first brutal winter most of them remained on board and many got sick. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring.
The following March in 1621, surviving settlers moved ashore and were later visited by various Native Americans who taught them how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish, and avoid poisonous plants. In November, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited their Native American allies for what is now considered America’s first “Thanksgiving.”
In 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation when he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to our war of independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. It wasn’t until 1846, however, that Thanksgiving became a national holiday when Abraham Lincoln made it official during the height of the Civil War. His proclamation entreated all Americans to ask God to “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of this nation.” Lincoln deemed the fourth Thursday in November Thanksgiving Day, but in 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression.
As I write the I can’t help but think what our former leaders would think if they could see us today. Washington would probably cringe that our Constitution is being disparaged by many and in many ways and Lincoln would think his words sadly ring as clear today as they did back then. Racial and civil strife. Heal the nation. Chills, right? And as for Roosevelt’s move, it was probably a wise one for the times, but how ironic that the holiday meant to stimulate gratitude is followed by a day when we’re cajoled to spur retail sales all our own. We’re so thankful and yet want so much.
Yes, there is always, always something to be thankful for. So this year, let’s try to count really our blessings. Count our joys instead of our woes, count our friends instead of our foes, count our courage instead of our fear, count our health instead of our wealth, and count our smiles instead of our tears.
Thanksgiving Fun Facts
Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be named the national bird instead of the bald eagle.
The tradition of the president pardoning a turkey every year started with Harry Truman.
More than 250 million turkeys are raised in the U.S. with more than 40 million gobbled up on Thanksgiving.
Male turkey gobble; females cluck.
The original Pilgrims and Native Americans probably shared rabbit, chicken, fish, goose, pigeon, squash, cabbage, beans, nuts, onions, eggs, and cheese at the first Thanksgiving, with not a green bean casserole in sight.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!