Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Thoughts on Thanksgiving from the Desert

Well, it's Thanksgiving week here in America, so I thought I'd post a few thoughts about Thanksgiving, the past, the present, and the future.

What are the origins of Thanksgiving? Oh, we all kinda know - the pilgrams came over from England, settled at Plymouth and made friends with the local Indians. The Indians taught them native farming techniques and the pilgrams, grateful, sat down at the table with the Indians, had fellowship, and gave thanks to God for their food, supplies, and their friends.

This 3 day feast started on 13 Dec 1621. Surprisingly, some of the items that were on their menu where not the menu today. For example they had a lot of fish, including lobsters. Here's the menu:
•Dried Beans
•Dried Blueberries

What? No potatoes? Didn't have them back then. Pumpkins weren't used for pumpkin pies. And the TURKEY? No turkey. The Indians hunted duck and geese, not wild fowl like turkey.

Here's some misc fasts about that 1621 meal:
•The celebration lasted for three days, not one, and consisted of intermittent feasting and entertainment (games and shooting of muskets).
•It was most likely held in October, not November.
•There is no evidence that the Indians (Wampanoag) were explicitly invited.
•It was not called “Thanksgiving”. It was a “harvest festival”.
•It did not become an annual event.

Back in 1789, President George Washington celebrated "Thanksgiving Day" under the new constitution. Since then, presidents from him until Lincoln, proclaimed Thanksgiving Day, but it was held on a state level.

In the 1860's Mrs. Sarah Joseph Hale, the editor of Godey's Lady Book promoted a "national" thanksgiving day by sending President Lincoln a letter. He responded in 1863 by setting aside the LAST thursday of November for Thanksgiving.

Over the next 75 years, the following presidents followed Lincoln's prescedent, declaring a national thanksgiving day. It wasn't until 1941 when Congress permanently established the 4th Thursday of November as a national holiday. I believe it was changed to the 3rd Thurday by FDR due to Daylight Savings Time concerns, but I'm not a 100% on that.


Early thoughts

For me, I remember Thanksgiving fondly. Wednesday was early day at school. We'd go home and help my mother bake pies and I loved baking pies. It was a happy memory for me - baking pies with my mother and sister. And it would take hours and we'd have a blast. My mom always baked a blueberry pie, my favorite and to this day I love having blueberry pie for dessert. She'd also do a pecan, mince meat, and pumpkin. The only other one I really cared for was pecan.

Thursday morning we'd drive 2 hours on the state roads from Manchester, NH to Hinsdale, NH to have Thanksgiving at my grandmother's house. The entire family would be there. My grandmother and aunt Mary took great pride in cooking the bird. Of course, everyone ate too much. My biggest memories: it was a family day and we all had fun.



Well, now I live in California. Thanksgiving doesn't have the same setting. There's no frost on the ground, (though the leaves are changing on my tree in my front yard) My husband's family comes over for the turkey. I made a blueberry pie last year with my son, Andrew. This year I'm brining the bird. My husband's grandmother is making me a blueberry pie.



Who knows what the future for thanksgiving holds - just remember it's about fellowship and giving thanks. Keep that in your thoughts.

I would LOVE to hear about you spend your thanksgivings - past and present. What the holiday means to you. Have you worked thanksgiving into any of your novels or short stories? While I haven't (I'm more of a historical writer and I haven't used Thanksgiving in any of my writing) I'd love to hear about how you, the writer, have weaved it into yours.

Smiles, and thanks for listening to my thoughts about thanksgiving from the desert..


  1. Nice post. I didn't know the first Thanksgiving included eel. Wow.
    The only thing unusual or noteworthy about my Thanksgiving celebrations is we often did it on the Saturday following to accomodate working family members. That occasionally left us free to volunteer at the food pantry's annual dinner. Lots of helpers gather to serve hundreds of dinners to folks who have nowhere else to go for the holiday. It is the most poignant reminder of how thankful I am for all God has given me--family, a home, food, even heat on a cold New York autumn. I am blessed.

    Happy Thanksgiving, and have a wonderful holiday season!

  2. I know - can you believe eel was on the menu back then? I'll take the lobster though! hehe. I like the idea of a Saturday celebration. I work, too and when I first started at my job, I didn't get Thanksgiving off so I missed a couple. Thanks so much for popping in and sharing your thoughts, Kathleen.