Howdy Pilgrim

When I think of Thanksgiving Day the first thing that comes to mind is family: A time of gathering to reminisce about the good old days, to cook and eat… and eat, and then eat some more. Is food what Thanksgiving is really all about? Most of us think that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated because of a bountiful harvest, but that’s not the case. The history nut in me leads me to research that first Thanksgiving, via The World Book Encyclopedia, not the world-wide-web. I still love my twenty-one year old set of hardcover encyclopedias.


The first Thanksgiving was entirely religious and did not involve food. On December 4, 1619, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation, on the James River near what is now Charles City, Virginia. This day of arrival was to be observed annually as a day of thanksgiving to God.


The first Thanksgiving in the New England state of Massachusetts was less than a year after the first pilgrims settled in America. The first winter had been devastating and about half of the settlers had died from the elements. But the pilgrims proved not to be quitters, even in the face of adversity and loss.


New hope sprouted in the summer of 1621. The settlers expected a bountiful harvest of corn even though the peas, wheat, and barley were not fairing as well. In early autumn governor William Bradford arranged a harvest festival to give thanks to God for the progress the colonists had made.


The first festival lasted three days. The pilgrims shot and ate duck, geese and turkey. They also feasted on clams, eel and other fish, wild plums and leeks, corn bread, and watercress. The women cooked this meal over an outdoor fire. Close to 90 Wampanoag Indians joined them bringing five deer to add to the feast. At Plymouth that day so long ago they ate outside at large tables and afterward enjoyed games together. I’m not certain, but I’d bet the tables were not segregated either.


In 1789, President George Washington issued a general proclamation naming November 26 a day of national thanksgiving. By 1830, New York had an official state Thanksgiving Day, and other Northern states soon followed. In 1855, Virginia became the first Southern state to adopt the custom.


Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book worked many years to promote the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day. Then President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November 1863, as “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”


Each year afterward, for 75 years, the President formally proclaimed that Thanksgiving Day should be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. But in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set it one week earlier. He wanted to help business by lengthening the shopping period before Christmas. But then Congress ruled that after 1941 the fourth Thursday of November would be observed as Thanksgiving Day and would be a legal federal holiday.


I know you’ve all heard or read this before but I just wanted to bring back the realities of yesteryear. A small group of people came to a strange and exciting new world. A place where American Indians roamed the land, a spot where wildlife was abundant and a person could grow their own food and live off the land. Do you think it was easy for the Native Americans to welcome the foreigners with open arms? I wonder if they shouted out a welcome of “howdy pilgrim?”


Yes, I believe they did. I think the American Indian was open to the newcomers and they probably worked together teaching each other the ways of their own people. Where did it all go wrong? When we became greedy and forgot where our blessings came. No one owns the land. We are only stewards of it.


I can only hope that at this time of year we can remember that first Thanksgiving. Those people celebrated the simplest of things like food in their bellies and a warm place to lie down for the night. Today if we don’t live in a mansion filled with valuable antiques and earn six figures we think we are the unfortunate ones.


Why, oh why can’t we get back to our roots and stop living above our means. Yes, I enjoy nice things, we all do. But we can certainly do without a lot of what we have or what we think we have to have. The next five weeks will be filled with shopping and overspending. Some will pay for their extravagance the entire next year. It doesn’t have to be like that. Please, enjoy your families and step back and remember what this holiday season is really all about. Being thankful for what we have and not longing for things we don’t need.


From the Duke and I: “Pilgrims, we hope you all have a blessed Thanksgiving Day.”


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Susan B. Walsh November 21, 2011 at 1:56 am

Thanks Sarah! I enjoyed reading your blog . I like to take my thoughts back to long ago and to a simpler time. We are such busy people. Happy Thanksgiving.

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