By Mavis Hansen
On Thanksgiving Day, Americans gather together with their family and friends to share food and to give thanks for the blessings of the past year. In kitchens across the country, people work to prepare such traditional foods of the season as turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. This American holiday has been celebrated since the early days of the Pilgrims, who set aside a time of festive thanksgiving in response to a plentiful harvest.
The pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving festival at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in October of 1621. They had arrived there the year before on the ship Mayflower. The harsh winter, sickness and hunger caused the death of over half of the original 100 settlers in their first year there.
By the fall of 1621 their lives had improved greatly. The seeds planted earlier in the year had produced a harvest that allowed the settlers to increase their meager food rations, thereby improving their health. Houses were constructed, promising adequate shelter for the upcoming winter. A long-lasting peace treaty was arranged between Massasoit, head Chief of the Wampanoag Indians, and the new settlers, allowing the settlers to hunt for food in the surrounding woods in safety.
Because of their good fortune, the Pilgrims decreed a holiday on which all might, “in a more special manner, rejoice together.” Men hunted for waterfowl and wild turkeys and the women went about the work of preparing foods for the upcoming feast. Chief Massasoit was invited to the feast, and brought with him 90 brightly painted warriors. The Indians contributed to the feast by hunting deer. For three days pilgrims and guests gorged themselves on venison cooked on a spit over a blazing fire, roast ducks and geese, clams, shellfish, smoked eel, peas, salad greens, corn pones and injun bread. The pilgrims served wine made from wild grapes.
After that first New England Thanksgiving, the custom spread throughout the colonies, but each region chose its own date. In 1789, George Washington, the first president of the United States, proclaimed November 26 a day of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day continued to be celebrated in the United States on different days in different states until finally, in 1863 President Lincoln issued a White House proclamation calling on the “whole American people” wherever they lived, north, south, east or west, to unite “with one heart and one voice” in observing a special day of thanksgiving. Setting aside the last Thursday of November, the President asked that people express heartfelt thanks for the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt advanced Thanksgiving Day one week. However, some states used the new date and others the old. It was changed again two years later. Thanksgiving Day is now celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
The theme of Thanksgiving has always been peace and plenty, health and happiness. To be truly observed, it involves not merely “thanks” but “giving” too. It is time for generosity in remembering and helping the less fortunate.
I am looking forward to thanksgiving and sure that you are too. A day to count our blessings, not only for the food, in abundance, that we enjoy with our family and friends, but for the many things that we take for granted every day. Many will donate food or their time to help those not as fortunate as ourselves. Thank you comes in the form of feeling good about yourself and knowing that you have helped someone in need. ENJOY your family and a delicious meal. Have a HAPPY THANKSGIVING! See you soon, someplace AROUND TOWN.