A New Perspective for this Holiday Season
Thanksgiving is a holiday with a longstanding tradition in our lives as well as American history. However, despite the fact that the holiday goes back to early colonial times, it took almost two and a half centuries to become a national holiday.
As we are all aware, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in September, 1620. Obviously, at such a late point in the year, they struggled to survive throughout the next year because of a lack of food and makeshift dwellings. Fortunately, for the new settlers, the tribal inhabitants of the area helped them understand how to grow and harvest food in the New World, especially Squanto (a member of the Patuxet tribe who had been kidnapped and taken to Europe before escaping and returning to North America; he understood English and as a result became an interpreter for the Pilgrims). Although the Pilgrims continued to struggle, those who survived decided to celebrate the fall harvest of 1621 (a common festival in Europe) attended by their neighbors, the Wampanoag Indians (Graham Woodlief and Barbara Ramos tell the story of an earlier celebration, 1619, in Virginia which can be found at: http://www.vahistorical.org/read-watch-listen/video-and-audio/first-thanksgiving ).
Today, it is hard for us to imagine, but famine was on the doorstep of most people until very recent times. As a result, people often felt fortunate to survive for another year, and harvest seemed the appropriate time to prepare a feast and give thanks. This tradition persisted in American culture as the colonies grew into the United States.
Various thanksgiving-type celebrations were held throughout the formative period of our nation. The Continental Congress called for a day of thanksgiving for the patriot victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Subsequently, George Washington called for a day of thanksgiving in 1789 for the ratification of the Constitution. In 1817, New York proclaimed an annual Thanksgiving Day, and other states followed suit. In 1863, and in an effort to boost the morale of the Union troops, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national “day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” (Presidential Proclamation, October 3, 1863) After the Civil War, Congress made this a yearly celebration in November. Franklin Roosevelt moved the date up one week to appease retailers as Christmas shopping traditionally goes into high gear the Friday after Thanksgiving (now known as Black Friday because it puts retailers in financial black instead of red). Sadly, for us today this day of thanks often becomes a menagerie of hectic events.
As we have all experienced, Thanksgiving is a time to overeat and watch football. Soon after the short period of reflection, family, and entertainment, we become completely distracted by the next holiday. Many anxious Christmas shoppers head out for Black Friday bargains, which increasingly begin on Thanksgiving evening. The hustle and bustle consume us for the next month, and then we are quietly thankful at the conclusion of Christmas and the fact that we survived another frantic holiday season. However, this year I ask you to take just a bit different approach.
As we give thanks this year, let’s truly be thankful for our families, friends, and the liberties we enjoy as Americans. Let’s share this thankfulness with others. Let’s try to hold the feeling of thankfulness throughout the Christmas season and into the New Year.