The Thanksgiving Holiday is not unique to the USA but we may enjoy it more than most. Given the way History is taught in schools, do younger Americans know its origin? Let’s review.

We’re Posting two days early as we take a break from discussing healthcare reform and the ridiculousness of Washington DC to pause for one of our most cherished of traditions.

Why is it that we have this Thanksgiving Holiday? It’s a national holiday and generally grants us a 4-day weekend, at least for many of us. If one searches the internet for Thanksgiving there is a plethora of good info. But why do we celebrate it?

Most of us don’t research the reason for any holiday and we are perfectly happy enjoying the time off from work. I say this as someone who is not good help and therefore banished from the kitchen so Thanksgiving Day has always been a full day of food, parades and football. (Except this year, it’s just food and parades since we can’t watch the NFL until the protests against our National Anthem stop.)
But that’s not the story for today.

Let’s take a brief look at the origin of Thanksgiving; courtesy of Wikipedia and the Internet.

Early thanksgiving observances

Thanksgiving
, or Thanksgiving Day, is a public holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November[1] in the United States. It originated as a harvest festival. Thanksgiving has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, after Congress requested a proclamation by George Washington.[2] It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1864, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.[3][4] Together with Christmas and the New Year, Thanksgiving is a part of the broader fall/winter holiday season in the U.S.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621.[5] This feast lasted three days, and—as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow[6]—it was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims.[7] The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.[8]

Setting aside time to give thanks for one’s blessings, along with holding feasts to celebrate a harvest, are both practices that long predate the European settlement of North America. The first documented thanksgiving services in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards[9][10] and the French[11] in the 16th century. Wisdom practices such as expressing gratitude, sharing, and giving away, are an integral part of indigenous communities since time immemorial.

Thanksgiving services were routine in what became the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607,[12] with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.[9] In 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia. The group’s London Company charter specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned… in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”[13][14] Three years later, after the Indian massacre of 1622, the Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned and colonists moved their celebration to Jamestown and other more secure spots.

Harvest festival observed by the Pilgrims at Plymouth

Americans also trace the Thanksgiving holiday to a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. Autumn or early winter feasts continued sporadically in later years, first as an impromptu religious observance and later as a civil tradition.

Squanto, a Patuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them. Squanto had learned the English language during his enslavement in England. The Wampanoag leader Massasoit had given food to the colonists during the first winter when supplies brought from England were insufficient.

The Pilgrims celebrated at Plymouth for three days after their first harvest in 1621. The exact time is unknown, but James Baker, the Plimoth Plantation vice president of research, stated in 1996, “The event occurred between Sept. 21 and Nov. 11, 1621, with the most likely time being around Michaelmas (Sept. 29), the traditional time.”[16]  ] The feast was cooked by the four adult Pilgrim women who survived their first winter in the New World (Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna White), along with young daughters and male and female servants.[16][17]

So, there you go, a brief history lesson for us all. Can you imagine our Congress declaring a day be set aside for honoring the Almighty who Dweleth in the Heavens in 2017?

Over 120 Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock but only 53 survived the first year, to celebrate and offer thanks, in the New World.   As we enjoy our Thanksgiving Holiday I hope we all  can benefit by knowing the first years of this celebration were precluded by great hardship and therefore were indeed a blessing for the settlers. They endured much and likely would have all perished if not assisted greatly by the Native Americans living in the region. We each need a little help in our lives from time to time!

There’s a lesson in history for each of us. Unfortunately it is quickly forgotten as the Monday following Thanksgiving arrives. Hey, maybe it will be different this year.
Next week we’re back to healthcare reform, tax reform and the unbelievable mess we call our US government.
Until next week, let’s remember what Thanksgiving is about and that like the Pilgrims in 1621, we’re all in this together.
Until then,
Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf

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