A Celebration of Thanksgiving
By: John Shepler
Gobble. Gobble. What's that rustling in the bush? Why, it's old Tom Turkey trying to keep a low profile as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. Little does he know that most families already have their plump Thanksgiving bird safely on ice in the freezer. Pick the feathers off that skinny, bad tempered fowl running through the corn fields? Why, that's just NOT traditional. Or is it?
What are you looking forward to for Thanksgiving this year? Is it drumsticks and mashed potatoes without end? The excitement of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? A lazy afternoon in front of the big screen with football, football, football? Family play time? Perhaps even a bit of reflection on what we have to be thankful for? Thanksgiving means many things to us. Perhaps it is the combination of history and personal experiences that makes it a welcome respite just before the rush of Christmas shopping takes off at full speed. I've collected some history and a few thoughts of my own that I'd like to share with you on the subject of a Thanksgiving celebration.
The origins of Thanksgiving predated the Pilgrims at least 2,000 years. After the harvest of each year was safely stored for the winter, Celtic priests, the Druids, would mark the end of their calendar with prayers to their sun god for protection during the period of darkness and cold of winter. These harvest festivals evolved and became combined with a Christian Feast of Saints.
The first formal celebration of Thanksgiving in North America was held by an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who attempted to establish an English settlement on Baffin Island, after failing to discover a northern passage to the Orient in 1576. Canada established the second Monday in October as a national holiday, "a day of general thanksgiving," in 1957.
The Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock held their Thanksgiving in 1621 as a three day "thank you" celebration to the leaders of the Wampanoag Indian tribe and their families for teaching them the survival skills they needed to make it in the New World. It was their good fortune that the tradition of the Wampanoags was to treat any visitor to their homes with a share of whatever food the family had, even if supplies were low. It was also an amazing stroke of luck that one of the Wampanoag, Tisquantum or Squanto, had become close friends with a British explorer, John Weymouth, and had learned the Pilgrim's language in his travels to England with Weymouth.
Unlike most of us, the Pilgrims were delighted to have Old Tom Turkey for dinner. Wild turkey was on the menu, along with corn (Pilgrim's wheat), Indian corn, barley, peas, waterfowl, five deer (brought by the Indians as their dish to pass), bass and cod. Since then, we've added such delicacies as ham, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, popcorn, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. What? Pumpkin pie is not authentic? The Pilgrims probably made pumpkin pudding sweetened with honey, but they didn't have sugar, crust or whipped topping. Life was tough back then.
The turkey tradition was really pushed by Benjamin Franklin, who wanted to make it the United States national symbol because it is a quick runner, wary, with sharp eyesight, and exhibited a regal stance, at least to Franklin. While the bald eagle nudged out the wild turkey for our official national symbol, Norman Rockwell has probably made the image of the family Thanksgiving turkey even more famous, and certainly more mouth watering.
The actual day we celebrate Thanksgiving in America was picked by our presidents, starting with George Washington who declared a one-time holiday. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November to be "...a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939, to prevent a 5 week November from shortening the Christmas shopping season.
Many of us include personal traditions in our Thanksgiving celebration. Barbara and I enjoy the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was started in the 1920's by first-generation immigrant employees of the department store who wanted to celebrate the holiday with the type of festival they loved in Europe. They dressed up in costume, borrowed 25 live animals from the Central Park Zoo and paraded from 145th Street to 34th Street, drawing a crowd of a quarter million and ensuring the continuation of the parade. The balloons were added in 1927, starting with Felix the Cat. Barbara's favorite float is the turkey with the big eyelashes.
Another tradition enjoyed by many is the writing of "gratitude journals." Each evening, you write down 5 things that you are grateful for that day. Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to review these and share them among family and friends. Oprah Winfrey gives copies of her favorite journal, the "Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude by Sarah Ban Breathnach", as gifts to her friends and members of her audience. Would you like to join me in creating our own gratitude journal online? Enter one thing you are particularly grateful for this year. They'll be available in our guestbook and we'll all be the richer for sharing.
While we're giving thanks for our bounty, please consider helping those who have so little:
Heifer International - Your donation provides livestock, such as rabbits, goats, sheep and water buffalo to give those in need the opportunity to help themselves and their villages become self-sustaining. Be generous...give an Ark of 15 pairs of animals to make the world a better place (hint: an excellent project for conscientious individuals, community and church groups).
Doctors Without Borders - This organization delivers emergency aid to victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters, and to others who lack health care due to social or geographical isolation.
Books of Interest:
Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Oprah Winfrey's favorite gift to her friends, this book helps us remember the simple pleasures of everyday life. Keep a daily list of the large and small things in life for which you are grateful. This book can be ordered online from Barnes and Noble as a convenience.
Also visit Books-A-Million for an excellent selection of new books, magazines, e-books, audio books and more at low, low prices.
Also visit these related sites:
What Are You Thankful For? - Please add your gratitude to our online gratitude journal. You may also enjoy reading the gratitudes others have added.
Thanksgiving History - A comprehensive history with fascinating biographies of people at the Pilgrim's first Thanksgiving. Read about the relationship between Squanto and John Weymouth.
Copyright 1998 - 2017 by John E. Shepler. Contact me at: John (at) JohnShepler.com
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First Published: November 22, 1998 as part of A Positive Light