Pilgrims

Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

Thanksgiving Has Become a Speed Bump

There used to be this holiday in the United States called “Thanks Giving”. It was kind of a big deal. There was the build up to the big day, the dinner with family, sitting around watching football, and yes it was the kick off to the Christmas Holiday season.

Over the last few years things have begun to change though. Store now have Christmas decorations up at the beginning of October. The holiday season has shifted and is now Halloween and Christmas with Thanksgiving feeling like a speed bump in between. And this year Thanksgiving got pushed aside just a little bit more with a number of major retailers announcing that “Black Friday” shopping sales would begin on October 29. I’m sorry, I think it sucks.

I know the economy is down, and that retail sales for Christmas are once again on target to be off for the 2010 season, but seriously it isn’t even Halloween yet. The New York Times is reporting that retailers including Sears, Wal-Mart and Target are offering big promotions to lure shoppers beforeĀ  well before Thanksgiving. Sears started its “Black Friday Now” deals on Friday the 28th, and Toys R Us is putting all the items in its Christmas toy book on sale starting on Sunday the 31st, the newspaper reports.

I want Thanksgiving back. I miss it. The holiday is about giving thanks, being grateful for what you have, and giving to those in need. There is something really wonderful about the fact that it is this non-consumerism based holiday. Yes I know people spend a ton of money on food , but the heart of the experience used center around family, friends, community and being truly thankful for what you have.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the rush to Christmas shopping was slowed, and the 4 weeks between Halloween and the third Thursday in November actually felt like a build up to something awesome; instead of a build up to the day things go on sale for Christmas? I think this year I am skipping sending Christmas cards and I’m going to send Happy Thanksgiving cards instead. That is if I can even find any amongst the piles o Christmas cards that have been on store shelves for weeks now.

The thing that is really sad is, if you ask people what the history of Thanksgiving is, what is supposed to really be about, most people can’t tell you.