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Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Some think of it in terms of a wonderful parade, others, a football game deep in the heart of Texas, while many more conjure sights and aromas of turkeys roasting with yams, and pumpkin pies cooling on an open sill.  For most, though, Thanksgiving in the United States is a time for family, reflection on our way of life, and gratitude for its bounty.  Grandma's house is still the location of choice.

Often we think of Thanksgiving as a purely American tradition but it is celebrated in some form or another in many countries around the world including Canada, Japan, and Liberia.  Festivities are also held in Brazil and Korea.  To dispel another historical myth, the first Thanksgiving in the Americas was celebrated in 1541 by the Spanish in the Palo Duro Canyon in West Texas.  It wasn't until 1621 that the Puritans, those of Pilgrim's Pride fame celebrated their Thanksgiving along with the Wampanoag Indians.

Thomas Jefferson would not allow for a Thanksgiving holiday, he said, because it was "a monarchical practice."  Jefferson fought against the concept of monarchy all his life and it wasn't Thanksgiving he was riled about, it was the practice of a presidential proclamation designating a holiday.  The traditions of his predecessors didn't have much impact on this thinking.  George Washington on the other hand proclaimed a Thanksgiving holiday in 1777 following a victory over the British, and the holiday was Colonies-wide.  This was the first Thanksgiving in the United States.

Today, even with our far flung economy spreading families in so many directions, it is tradition for children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and even good neighbors to get together at Grandma's and feast, chow-down, on turkey, pie, mashed potatoes, fruit salads, and don't forget the green beans with almonds.  It wasn't so in 1621.  There was no flour or potatoes.  There was no milk or butter since there were no domesticated critters from which dairy products might come.

The natives living on the east coast of North America only had dogs as far as domesticated animals go.  Bison and deer were never domesticated and the Puritans did not bring cattle, goats, or sheep with them.  The Spanish had a little more foresight.  One thing that survives unto today is Indian Fry Bread, and that was served.  Ground corn fried into a flat bread is a staple in many cultures in the Americas today as it was 400 years ago.

Potatoes were known in the New World but Europeans considered them poisonous, similar to tomatoes, and weren't eaten.  It's never really been determined why those early immigrants didn't bring farm animals with them on their journey.  Speculation of course abounds and centers on space.  In fact most of those that arrived on the Mayflower were not Puritans but were hired security people by the company that booked the passage.

That 1621 Thanksgiving table was filled with venison, probably fish from the streams and bay, wild fruit such as plums, and of course nuts from the great hardwood forests of New England.  Turkey?  This isn't known for sure since the Puritans called all wild fowl turkey, but it is safe to say there were ducks and geese on the board.

Those Puritans arrived in 1620 at what we now call Plymouth, Massachusetts and could very well have died of starvation that first long cold winter.  Many believe that is why the Thanksgiving celebration of 1621 was so important to them and why they invited their friends the Wampanoag to join them.  The Pilgrims learned well and survived on their corn harvests for years afterward.

Many religious organizations don't feast at their Thanksgiving celebrations but rather they fast and spend great amounts of time in prayer.  With so many lost during the previous year, Governor William Bradford had a celebration in mind with a bountiful harvest and plentiful game.  Massachusetts Bay was filled with lobster and clams, which had to be part of the feast.

Four hundred years from now what will be written about traditions celebrated in the early years of the 21st Century?  Shopping!  While Santa Claus, his elves and reindeer have been seen in stores well before Hallowe'en, it is the day after Thanksgiving that is now the traditional start of the holiday shopping spree, which is so much a part of our lives.

That started with Franklin D. Roosevelt during a period of economic disaster in this country and just prior to our entry into WW II.  He proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the next-to-last Thursday in November to, as he put it, "Create a longer Christmas shopping season."  Following public uproar over his move, Congress passed the Thanksgiving law, which dictates our holiday to be on the fourth Thursday of November.  It was the first time the holiday was decreed by law rather than proclamation.  Jefferson would like that.

Rivalries on the gridiron are traditions at the heart of many family celebrations.  A football game before the feast featuring clashes between college rivalries, tough contests between competing high schools, brisk fall temperatures, a taste of Apple Jack maybe, and that turkey is always slightly better.  Professional football teams have gotten into the mix including the Dallas Cowboys that have played a game almost every Thanksgiving since 1966.  They missed 1975 and 1977.  It was a bad turkey year?

Commercialism is never far from any American holiday and Thanksgiving holds up its end of the bargain with large parades in major metropolitan areas sponsored by such economic luminaries as Macy's Department Stores.  The Internet is filled with sites that discuss thanksgiving and its history and traditions, some even slightly irreverent.  Of all the holidays celebrated in the United States, Thanksgiving and Independence Day stand out as truly American.

No history of Thanksgiving is complete without a dose of Sarah Hale, editor of one of the first women's magazines in the country.  Mrs. Hale was constant in her efforts to create a national Thanksgiving Holiday.  After withstanding her efforts for years, President Abraham Lincoln, in 1863 finally declared a national day of Thanksgiving.  Mrs. Hale spent more than 36 years in her effort.

However you celebrate the bounty of our way of life, it was probably Theodore Roosevelt that said it best; "Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds."

This is the proclamation written by Abraham Lincoln, which many people believe was the intent of Congress many years later in creating the holiday by way of the law of the land.

By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.

Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one
thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

The words that seem to be misspelled are the way the president wrote them, and in their day, were consdiered correct.  Gotta go, I smell punkin’ pie …

As always, have a grand holiday, enjoy good books, and stay regular.

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