On Thursday, Americans across the country will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving Day in America is a time to offer thanks, to get together with family and friends and to enjoy the traditional culinary delights of the holiday. While celebrating this holiday, it is also important for us to reflect on its historical aspects.
The Pilgrims who sailed to this country aboard the Mayflower were originally members of the English Separatist Church. They set ground at Plymouth Rock on Dec. 11, 1620, and their first winter was devastating. By the fall of 1621, they had lost 46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower. The positive thing that happened that fall was that the harvest was a bountiful one. The remaining colonists decided to celebrate with a feast and included the 91 Indians who had helped them survive their first year. The feast was a traditional English harvest festival that lasted three days.
Governor William Bradford sent “four men fouling” after wild ducks and geese. It is not certain that wild turkey was part of their feast. However, it is certain that they had venison. The term “turkey” was used by the Pilgrims to mean any sort of wild fowl.
A modern staple at almost every Thanksgiving table is pumpkin pie. It is unlikely that the first feast included that treat. The supply of flour had been long diminished, so there was no bread or pastries of any kind. However, the Pilgrims did eat boiled pumpkin and they produced a type of fried bread from their corn crop. There was no milk, cider, potatoes, or butter, but the feast did include fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison and plums.
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The Pilgrims did not have a Thanksgiving feast in 1622, but in 1623, during a severe drought, they gathered in a prayer service, praying for rain. When a long, steady rain followed the next day, Governor Bradford proclaimed another day of Thanksgiving, again inviting their Indian friends. It wasn’t until June 1676 that another Day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed.
October of 1777 marked the first time that all 13 colonies joined in a Thanksgiving celebration. It also commemorated the patriotic victory over the British at Saratoga. Thanksgiving was not celebrated again until George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789.
The next Thanksgiving celebration did not occur until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a National Day of Thanksgiving. Every president since Lincoln has proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and in 1941, the fourth Thursday in November was sanctioned by Congress as the legal Thanksgiving holiday.
As you gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, please pause for a minute to express your thanks for the bounty of blessings we all enjoy. America is a land of abundance, prosperity and hope, and we should not take for granted the things that make our country great: a firm foundation of freedom, justice and equality; a belief in democracy and the rule of law; and our fundamental rights to gather, speak and worship freely.
Thanksgiving is also a time for us to reach out to those in our community who are less fortunate. O’Fallon’s local charities and non-profit groups work hard throughout the year to provide programs and services for those less fortunate, and it is through the dedication of these groups and the community’s generosity that numerous families in O’Fallon will experience a happy and peaceful holiday season. These tireless efforts are yet another example of why O’Fallon is such a great community in which to live.