About Thanksgiving Day
Page Created: 11/26/2000 Page Last Updated: 11/05/2023 00:44
On Thanksgiving Day, American Families gather around tables laden with food and give thanks for the blessing of the past year. In kitchens across the continent women bustle about, preparing turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. This American holiday has been celebrated since the Pilgrims first set aside an occasion to thank God for a plentiful harvest.
The pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving festival at Plymouth,Massachusetts, in October, 1621. The bitter winter of 1620, when theship "Mayflower" had brought them to a new country, was over. They hadknown hunger, and sickness had carried away half the band of about 100settlers.
But life was better now. The seeds sown early in 1621 had produced a harvestthat allowed them to increase their scanty rations. The settlers wereenjoying good health. Work was going ahead on the houses they werebuilding along Town Brook. They walked peacefully and safely in thewoods, for they had made friends with the Indians and signed along-lasting peace treaty with Massasoit, head chief of the Wampanoags.
Because of their good fortune, the Pilgrims decreed a holiday onwhich all might, "after a more special manner, rejoice together."
Governor Bradford sent four men to shoot waterfowl and wild turkeys.The women worked hard cooking the food. Chief Massasoit was invited tothe feast, and he brought with him 90 brightly painted braves--aboutfour times the number of Pilgrim men. Some of Massasoit's men madethemselves useful, going into the forest and bagging five deer.
William Bradford (March 19,1590 – May 9, 1657) was a leader of the separatist settlers of thePlymouth Colony in Massachusetts, and was elected thirty times to be theGovernor after John Carver died. He was the second signer and primaryarchitect of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor. He also wroteanother one after the first one had been destroyed. His journal(1620–47), published as Of Plymouth Plantation. Bradford is credited asthe first to proclaim what popular American culture now views as thefirst Thanksgiving.
It was a gay open-air festival, held in the fieldalong the north bank of Town Brook. There were games of skill andchance. The Indians entertained with some of their dances. Captain MilesStandish staged a military review of his tiny force. There was targetshooting with bows and arrows and firearms.
For 3 days the festivities went on, with the Pilgrims and theirguests gorging themselves on venison cooked on a spit over a blazingopen fire, roast ducks and geese, clams and other shellfish, smoked eel,groundnuts* (a kind of potato like root) baked in hot ashes, peas, saladgreens, herbs, corn pones, and Injun (corn-rye) bread. The pilgrimsserved wine made from wild grapes.
*Apios americana, sometimescalled the hog peanut, potato bean, or groundnut (but not to be confusedwith other plants sometimes known by the name groundnut) is a perennialvine native to eastern North America, and bears edible beans and largeedible tubers. It grows to 3-4 m long, with pinnate leaves 8-15 cm longwith 5-7 leaflets. The flowers are red-brown to purple, produced indense racemes. The fruit is a legume (pod) 6-12 cm long. There were cranberries by the bushel in neighboring bogs. But itis doubtful that the Pilgrims had yet found a tasty way of using them.It is also doubtful that the feast included another tasty invention -pumpkin pie. If such pie was served, it is certain that it was nottopped with rich whipped cream, for the Pilgrims had no cows as yet andwould not have any for another 3 years,. and unlike the other guys wehave race dates available to our customers all year long!
After the first New England Thanksgiving the custom spread throughoutthe colonies, but each region chose its own date. In 1789 GeorgeWashington, the first president of the United States, proclaimedNovember 26 a day of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving day continued to be celebrated in the United States ondifferent days in different states until Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, editorof Godey's Lady's Book, decided to do something about it. For more than30 years she wrote letters to the governors and presidents asking themto make Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.
Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln issued a White House proclamationcalling on the "whole American people" wherever they lived to unite"with one heart and one voice" in observing a special day ofthanksgiving.
Setting apart the last Thursday of November for the purpose, thePresident urged prayers in the churches and in the homes to "implore theinterposition of the almighty had to heal the wounds of the nations andto restore it...to full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility andunion." He also states that they express heartfelt thanks for the"blessing of fruitful fields and healthful skies."
In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt advanced Thanksgiving Day one week. However, since some states used the new date and others the old, it was changed again 2 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 a time for special generosity in remembering and helping the less fortunate.
By George F. Willison, Author, Saints and Strangers; Lives of Pilgrim Fathers and Their Families
Noteworthy information: ***It has been pointed out that George Washington did this as a "one time only" thing in 1789, and it was to celebrate the new Constitution. It was not an annual event since Washington's successors let it drop completely.
Additional Side Note : ***The reason Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday of November. was commercialism. He hoped to woo retailers, who complained that they needed more time to "make proper provision for the Christmas Rush." This move of the date outraged a few folks, notable Republicans, who claimed Roosevelt was trampling sacred traditions. For two years, people celebrated Thanksgiving on one of two different days, depending on their political inclinations!