A Celebration of Thanksgiving Our holiday history, traditions and
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
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
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
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
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?
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:
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).
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
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 these related sites:
Are You Thankful For? - Please add your gratitude to our
online gratitude journal. You may also enjoy reading the gratitudes
others have added.
- Lots of detail on the first Thanksgiving, courtesy of Plimoth Plantaton, an not for profit museum of early American history.