Thanksgiving – what’s it all about, really? Oh, I know on this Black Friday, some arose early for the special sales, however, I can’t think of anything worth the setting of a 4 a.m. alarm, with the exception of a family need, of course. I am also positive most of us enjoyed turkey sandwiches on this day and flipped the TV channels for the Big Game.
One: shopping, Two: eating, Three: football. – is that all? Of course, not – read as I evaluate, calculate, and, perhaps, even demonstrate the attributes of Thanksgiving.
Freedom – we, as U.S. citizens, have the freedom to celebrate. We may celebrate in any fashion that we choose, as long as it is legal. Most American households gather with family members, enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving dinner of roasted turkey, dressing/stuffing with giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, pecan, pumpkin, or sweet potato pie (probably all three), plus, two or three favorite-family-dishes, along with sweet tea and coffee, with dessert. After the big meal, we have the freedom to watch football, take a nap, call out-of-town relatives, hug aunties and kiss the babies. Hey, we can almost accomplish all of these activities simultaneously – just takes a large screen TV, comfy recliner, and a room full of relatives and friends.
Tradition – again, we, as U.S. citizens, have the option to follow the longstanding tradition of thanking our Maker for His gracious Blessings. Yes, Americans may celebrate our heritage with a thankful heart, without the intrusion of governmental soldiers storming the door. We may gather in a church of our choice to rejoice and offer thanks for our bountiful harvest – whether the harvest is in the form of good health, friends and family, kindnesses of church family members or even strangers. We may gather peacefully and offer our heartfelt thanks to our Lord.
At this time of year, I am always drawn to what is traditionally known as The First Thanksgiving. History recorded the 1621 event was when the Plymouth settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. The reason for the success was attributed to Squanto, a Patuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe. He taught the pilgrims how to plant and harvest corn. The generosity on the part of the Wampanoag tribe also included food donations from their Chief Massasoit during the prior winter. Without the food donations, the fledging colony would have surely perished.
It is recorded the Pilgrims celebrated at Plymouth three days after the successful harvest. The following is a personal account of the 1621 feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty." Edward Winslow
During the Revolutionary War, the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777:
FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God: to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties: particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with signal success:
'It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE …"
During the next 90 years, several presidents issued proclamations for individual days that proclaimed Thanksgiving, but in 1863, largely due to a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. Since that time Thanksgiving has been observed annually in America.
President Lincoln’s successors continued the tradition of the event celebrated on the last Thursday of the month, until the year of 1939, when November had five Thursdays – an unusual occurrence. At that time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving, rather than the fifth Thursday.
It was on November 29, 1963 that President John F. Kennedy spared the life of one selected turkey – a practice known as “pardoning” a turkey. The practice became a permanent tradition in 1989 and has continued each year.
The First Thanksgiving feast celebrated in 1621 featured, among other food items, fowl or turkey. The U.S. has continued the tradition serving roasted turkeys as the main course of the Thanksgiving Day meal. Throughout our nation, many communities collect donated turkeys for those who are in need. Meridian is considered a generous community, as is the entire state of Mississippi. This week many families enjoyed a full Thanksgiving meal donated by kindhearted local folks, churches, organizations and individuals.
Last week, as I visited a large private school in Jackson, during the Thanksgiving Feast, children were dressed as Pilgrims and Indians. Parents and grandparents joined students and faculty for the annual celebration. In this 21st Century, the memory of a fall day in 1621 has continued the grand tradition of Giving Thanks for our bountiful harvest.
Oh, and Tom Turkey, football, and Black Friday – I’m sure the Pilgrims and Indians would join in the fun, with thankful hearts.
Anne B. McKee is a writer and storyteller. Visit her website at www.annemckee.net.