Comments about Thanksgiving


Every year, Americans gather in various places to celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is designed to commemorate what is commonly called the “First Thanksgiving” celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest.  That three day feast included about 53 Pilgrims and 90 American Indians.

President John Hanson, the first president of the newly independent United States under the Articles of Confederation declared that the fourth Thursday of November would be recognized as Thanksgiving on Oct. 11, 1782.  George Washington again proclaimed the day of Thanksgiving in 1795.   It was President Abraham Lincoln, who during the Civil War, declared a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in Heaven,” in 1863.

Early New England Colonists were devout Christians and accustomed to celebrations of Thanksgiving days of prayer, thanking God for blessings such as military victories or the end of a drought. In fact there have been a number of thanksgiving celebrations for events that benefitted the progress in America such as the addition of territory.

The obvious omission of any overtly religious proclamation started well before the present aversion to statements that reflect our actual beginnings. Of course, we call this aversion “political correctness,” but we allow all other religions to make their declarations of faith.  We seem to protect everyone’s rights to their religious freedom, with the exception of our right to honor the God worshiped by our forefathers.

President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed that Thanksgiving would be on the fourth Thursday of November in 1939 because that year had five Thursdays in the month.  Part of that decision was so that the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas would be longer.  Of course, such a decision made for commercial gains met with political backlash.  Then in 1940 and 1941 Roosevelt declared that the third Thursday of November would be Thanksgiving.  Opponents of that idea rebelled against what we now call Black Friday, which is the day that most retail stores sell a large portion of their merchandise and end up financially in the black.  Those opposed to the commercial endorsement of the holiday chose to boycott any shopping on that day and called it “buy nothing day.”

Currently, the Christmas shopping season is mentioned much earlier than in previous years.  Once Halloween is over, the advertising focus is on Christmas in no small measure, but there are certainly hints of Christmas that precede the “official” season.  Again, Christmas is becoming more and more devoid of any connection to Christianity even dropping the title based on the name of the Messiah.

Still, some traditions have less to do with financial outcomes and political hot button issues.  Generally the fare for Thanksgiving meals consists of seasonal foods, which refers mainly to root vegetables, corn, cranberries, squash and pumpkin.  While turkey is native to America, it had become part of the fare in England after the Spaniards brought turkeys from Central America and introduced them to Europe.  In England turkey had already become an alternative to the traditional Christmas goose.  Still, turkey is the central dish for most Thanksgiving celebrations in America.

Travel has become a part of Thanksgiving, too.  Many people travel to spend time with relatives they may not see as often as they’d like, but it’s a relatively short period of time to accommodate much long distance travel.

Parades have become a popular pastime, too, encouraged by retailers and clearly aimed at increasing sales on the day after Thanksgiving.  Finally, football, basketball, hockey and “turkey trots” are sporting events one can find at Thanksgiving time.  Even though golf and auto racing is out of season, some events have managed to work their way into the holiday, especially in places where the climate is less severe.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. When I lived in Hawaii, many of my friends were Mainland transplants with no family nearby.  I started hosting a dinner for several of us and it became a personal tradition.   Since returning to the Midwest, I have continued the tradition of hosting a dinner with all the trimmings.  I serve a wild turkey when possible.  I say a prayer at our Thanksgiving feast.  I’m thankful for the bounty of my life and I pray for everyone less fortunate.  I believe that the majority of the world is less fortunate than I.  I truly wish that everyone could be as blessed as I feel. 

It’s not that anyone needs to sit down at a table with far more food than necessary, but knowing that I will make no sacrifice to be able to feed the people I care about makes me happy.  I’m willing to make sacrifice, and I do in other ways, but Thanksgiving is just a time to reflect on how fortunate we are.  The menu is determined more by tradition than anything else.

It’s really a wonderful concept to have a day designated for giving thanks.  Of course, we ought always be thankful and express our thanks.  We can express our thanks in prayer or meditation, but perhaps a better way to express our thanks is by sharing our bounty with others.  The many additional activities that ride on the coattails of the solemn celebration need not lessen the original purpose of the day.  It seems there was rather a large fuss made to establish the day of Thanksgiving and the exact day it would take place.  What other holiday enjoyed the proclamation of so many official declarations?