Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
Thanksgiving and its celebration of family is essential to the American character.
The rituals, the food and the spirit of the national holiday speak to the nation’s history as a land of newcomers who mostly came here in poverty and distress.
The holiday also had an important religious and spiritual component since so many Americans came here, fleeing religious persecution.
Here are a few facts on Thanksgiving.
A MOON MEAL
Turkey was the first meal enjoyed by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men on the moon.
William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Plantation, describes that the diets of the Massachusetts colony’s residents included wild turkey, venison, cod, bass, waterfowl and corn. Colonists were drying shellfish and smoking fish.
Pumpkin pie was found in English cookbooks from the 1600s but became popular on Thanksgiving tables in the early 1800s.
For Latin American immigrants, tamales often show up during the holidays.
THE INDIAN TRADITIONS
In Massachusetts, the Pilgrims in 1621 dined with the Wampanoag Indians who regularly conducted thanksgiving rituals — for green corn, for arrival certain fish species, for whales, for the first snow, for the new year. It’s a human spirit.
They would give thanks to their human mother and to Mother Earth.
“For me, it’s a state of being,” said Ramona Peters, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s historic preservation officer in Indian Country Today “You want to live in a state of thanksgiving, meaning that you use the creativity that the Creator gave you. You use your talents. You find out what those are and you cultivate them and that gives thanks in action.”
All relations between colonists and Indians wasn’t sweetness and light. In 1637, a band of Puritans massacred over 700 members of the Pequot tribe — men, women and children — in what is now Mystic, Connecticut.
Since 1970, protesters have gathered near Plymouth Rock to declare a National Day of Mourning to mark treatment of American Indians.
Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans would feast and pay tribute to the gods after the fall harvest. There also is a Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot.
The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving in 1777. However, the national proclamation custom fell out of use by 1815. Nevertheless, by 1850 nearly every state and territory celebrated Thanksgiving.
Sarah Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, petitioned 13 presidents beginning in 1827 to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. It was already widely celebrated.
President Abraham Lincoln accepted her idea as a way to help unite the country during the Civil War. So it became official in 1863.
Hale also is the author of the nursery rhyme, “Mary had a Little Lamb.”
The last Thursday in November was the customary date. However, in 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to move up the holiday one week earlier in order to stimulate more shopping during the Great Depression. Americans rebelled at the change in tradition and in 1941 Congress permanently set the fourth Thursday as the holiday.
ST. AUGUSTINE’S FEAST
St. Augustine is one of several cities in America that claim an earlier thanksgiving than the event in 1621 in Massachusetts.
St. Augustine’s event was in 1565 in which Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez invited the local Timucua tribe to a dinner after holding a Mass to thank God for his crew’s safe arrival.
Cities in Texas, Maine and Virginia also have similar claims.
Massachusetts did a better job of publicizing its version, it seems.
COOL THANKSGIVING FACTS
• Turkeys roamed America for 10 million years, according to fossil records.
• Thomas Jefferson thought the concept of Thanksgiving was “the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard.”
• Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey to the bald eagle as the national bird.