This week we will celebrate the beginning of the holiday season with a traditional American holiday, Thanksgiving. For some, it will be a joyous time of getting together to celebrate the three F’s – family, food and football. For others however, the opportunity for discord might only be magnified by getting together with relatives. Throw in Black Friday, and no wonder many people get stressed out during the holidays. Perhaps lost in all the hustle and bustle is the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving in the first place.
Three hundred and ninety-six years ago a small ship carrying 102 passengers left Plymouth, England in September for the New World, lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership. They were also seeking a place where they could freely practice their faith. Following a difficult 66 day journey, passengers of the Mayflower dropped anchor far north of their intended destination. One month later, they crossed Massachusetts Bay and established a village at Plymouth. During that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure and outbreaks of disease. Only half of the original passengers and crew lived to see spring. The following March, the remaining settlers moved to shore, thereby starting a wave of immigration that continues to this day. Far from being shunned by the natives, the settlers received an astonishing visit from an Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American named Squanto, who was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe. Squanto had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland. Squanto taught the pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with a local Indian tribe, one which would endure for more than 50 years. In November 1621 after the pilgrims first harvest proved successful, Gov. William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of native American allies to join them in giving thanks. This is now remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving.”
The trend by retailers to get you thinking about Christmas gift giving is not a recent one either. Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, designating the final Thursday in November for its celebration. Franklin Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in 1939 however, in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Opponents referred to his plan as “Franksgiving”, and Roosevelt reluctantly had to move the holiday back to the fourth Thursday in November in 1941.
So if you are already dreading the journey over the river and through the woods, remember to think about why we celebrate Thanksgiving in the first place, and remember the blessing that is yourself, your family, and this country. Now, if you could please pass the turkey!