I didn't know the story, until now
This week, I decided to explore the why behind Thanksgiving… and I’m glad that I did. Let’s dive right into it, here’s this week’s piece.
I'll be honest, as a Londoner I know that Thanksgiving is a major thing in the US each year, and I've loosely known that it's there for families and friends to come together and ‘give thanks’, but I've never really known what the message behind Thanksgiving is, beyond that.
In a way (to me at least), it feels like Thanksgiving is more known for the Black Friday sales which follow; Thanksgiving being on the last Thursday of the month, and then Black Friday on the day following.
Here in the UK, we like to follow the example set by the US in certain ways… it’s just that we're just a little behind the curve. In recent years, the popularity of US traditions like Halloween and Black Friday has grown. Black Friday, especially with the advancement of online business and the world of Amazon, has increasingly gained momentum so that what was a single day or a long weekend has now morphed into a couple of weeks of sales… in fact, with Christmas less than 30 days away, it feels like the next month will be a barrage of sales and “go buy stuff” messaging.
Speaking of which, we supposedly celebrate Christmas as a society, and yet are largely disconnected from the true message behind Christmas (to remember - and celebrate - the birth of Jesus Christ), what it really stands for aside from time off and presents and eating too much turkey and pigs-in-blankets.
Which brings me back to my earlier sentiment; the fact that I didn’t have any understanding about what Thanksgiving is actually all about. With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, I wanted to find out more about it. Here's what I discovered…
The story behind Thanksgiving
Well, it originated as a harvest festival (more to come on this). Who knew? Wikipedia tells us that is has been celebrated on and off since 1789 nationally, and it officially became a federal holiday in 1863 during the time of the American Civil War (ah, this is ringing a bell for me now somewhere in the remnants of my memory). After some changing of its date by President Roosevelt, it was from 1942 onwards that Congress proclaimed that it would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month.
Yes, Wikipedia, but I want to know about the very first Thanksgiving. Well, remarkably, this was in October 1621; so, Thanksgiving 2021 will mark 400 years since the first-ever Thanksgiving.
It was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest; the feast was said to have lasted three days and was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. The Pilgrims had arrived from England via the Mayflower ship. Wikipedia goes on to explain that:
“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”
The Pilgrims first arrived in December 1620, disembarking at Plymouth Rock. Whilst their first winter was said to have been devastating, many of them stayed on the ship and died. But the harvest of 1621 was bountiful. Hence they celebrated with a feast - including with 91 Natives who had helped the Pilgrims survive their first year. The Natives taught them things like “how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants”.
These were the same Natives whose land was being taken over by these folks from a foreign land. That first Thanksgiving was said to have been more of an English harvest festival rather than a typical ‘thanksgiving' observance.
It's an interesting and heartfelt story. And one I'm glad I've made the effort to further investigate.
Today, in 2019, the message behind Thanksgiving is to "a celebration of the close family and friends in our lives and the fall harvest. At its heart, the holiday holds a deep sense of gratitude. It is as it sounds, a day to “give thanks.”
In amongst the Macy's parade, the Presidential's turkey pardon, the all-day American football and the endless sales... let us remember to do exactly that. To spend time with those who mean something to us, and to be grateful for them, and for that which we have in our life.
According to a piece I came across in Reader’s Digest:
"To mark the holiday, friends and family gather around the table to enjoy each other’s company, eat a hearty plate of turkey and pumpkin pie, and share what they’re thankful for from the past year."
Whilst the UK doesn't celebrate 'Thanksgiving' I'll be taking a few moments to celebrate the people I have in my life, and the things - some of the very basic things which I so easily overlooked - which I am really grateful for.
credit: Hannah Busing
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