Today marks the annual Thanksgiving holiday here in America, and as I sit here in front of my computer, in my warm home, with a hot cup of coffee, I am truly grateful and thankful for everything I have. There are so many people in the world that aren’t as fortunate as I am, and I have been blessed with so much.
Last night I got to thinking about the history of Thanksgiving. For most people the history of Thanksgiving is the story of the pilgrims and the native Americans sitting down to a huge feast at Plymouth Rock after almost starving to death in the first year of living in the colonies. Part of that is true, but the history of Thanksgiving is actually much more.
As we all know, the Pilgrims first arrived in the American colonies on December 11, 1620. The Pilgrims were not prepared for the New England winter they were to face. A winter that claimed 46 lives of the 102 pilgrims in the first few months. After surviving the winter, they were able to take advantage of the good soil, and abundant wildlife and that fall they had an excellent harvest, much of which can be attributed to what the native Americans taught them.
The Pilgrims had a traditional English Harvest Feast, giving thanks to god for surviving and for the blessings of the harvest that would help them survive the second winter in the colonies. In contrast to Thanksgiving today, the Pilgrims actually had more meat than vegetables. The menu for the Harvest Feast included venison, fish, wild fowl, which probably had very little wild turkey in it. ( The chief of the native American tribe that attended the feast brought 5 freshly killed deer to the party as a gift to the pilgrims. Another act that probably helped them to survive a second winter. ) The Pilgrims probably had very little in the way of desserts since baking items like flour and sugar would have been in short supply. They did however have an abundance of corn and fruit, instead of pumpkin pie, the probably had roasted pumpkin. The Harvest Feast lasted for three days true to its origins in England.
Thanksgiving as we know it today, was not an annual event in America for many years following the first Thanksgiving in 1621. In 1623 there had been a severe drought that had placed additional hardships on the pilgrims. In October of that year, the Pilgrims held a prayer service, praying for rain, and an end to the drought. When their prayers were answered they held another Thanksgiving celebration inviting the Native Americans to join them again. The reality is though, times in the first American colonies were hard, and being able to celebrate every year was not a reality.
On June 20th, 1676 the city of Charlestown, Massachusetts celebrated a day of Thanksgiving. It was in many respects the first official Thanksgiving celebration. This celebration however was quite different from the first Thanksgiving held by the Pilgrims in 1621. This celebration was to honor the military victory over the Native Americans which had been taking place for a number of years. This celebration would not take place again until 1789 when the city celebrated the victory of the United States over the English in the Revolutionary War. The new President George Washington established the first national Thanksgiving holiday in 1789, even though he met resistance from other founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson.
Thanksgiving as we know it today, didn’t arrive until 1863. Sarah Josepha Hale decided to promote Thanksgiving in her magazine, Boston Ladies’ Magazine and in Godey’s Lady’s Book. She also wrote letters to different governors and presidents. Abraham Lincoln finally established Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. The date was changed a few times (to the third Thursday), but in 1941 was finally established on its current date, the fourth Thursday in November.
Since 1863 the focus has drifted away from a day set aside to truly be thankful for all that we have. It has become a day to eat copious amounts of food, watch football on TV, nap on the couch, and as of late hit the stores for deep discounts on consumer goods. And while there is nothing wrong with any of that, the thing I am trying to remember is that this is a day to be thankful for all I have. I am truly blessed, and have a great life. I need to be thankful and extend a helping hand this holiday season to those less fortunate. I encourage everyone else to do the same.