History of Thanksgiving

Ann Swanson

What do you suppose the first Thanksgiving was actually like? I am sure it was nothing like the pictures that have surfaced through drawings and paintings. Remember probably everything was cooked over on an open fire. That meant there would be no pies and the turkey and venison were most likely cooked on a spit of some kind.

It is documented that the Indians and the Pilgrims ate a meal together. Each of the fixed food for the meal.

George Washington made a proclamation, 160 years after the Pilgrims celebrated that first Thanksgiving in the New World. He made the proclamation on October 3, 1789. It said, “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me, ‘to recommend to the people of the U. S. a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.'”

It was not until October 3, 1863, that Abraham Lincoln made his Thanksgiving proclamation. He wrote,” I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens in every part of the U. S., and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

In one book that I looked through, I saw a picture by John Slobodnik. I remember him as the illustrator who did many covers for an old magazine that I used to subscribe to. The picture is of a small boy with hands folded in prayer. His dog patiently waits near the table I imagine for any scraps that might fall during the dinner.

I also fund the famous picture by Norman Rockwell, that was part of the Four Freedoms series. The one I refer to was “Freedom from Want” drawn in 1943. The mother of the family is placing a large turkey on her table with her husband close behind her. The family looks on from their seats around the table. I gave my husband the book with Norman Rockwell drawings many years ago. He, in turn, gave me a framed picture of a teacher in her classroom years later for Christmas.

What has happened to our Thanksgiving celebration? It was a time for family and friends, a time to give thanks around the table, a time to attend a service at a local church. It was a time to give thanks for all of our blessings.

Thanksgiving has become a day for shopping, going after the bargains before anyone else can get them. Stores open on Thanksgiving and the family disperses. Are we honoring those who came before us? I do not think so. My family and I do not shop. We eat together and visit. We give thanks. Usually, dessert is served long after dinner because we all have eaten plenty during the meal and have no room for dessert. If anyone is still hungry they can make themselves a turkey sandwich before they depart.

During the early years, our country was a Christian nation. There was no set religion, but the idea of Christianity was prevalent. Re-read those proclamations to see the importance of the Christian faith. Now, no longer are we a Christian nation. We have many faiths within our borders. I do not see that as a problem. Only by accentuating our differences do we cause division. We need to see the things that bind us together, make us one country.

The Pilgrims came to the U. S. for religious freedom. I do not think they would deny that kind of freedom to others. Their suffering reinforced that.

Giving thanks is the centerpiece of the holiday. Take time to thank the Lord for all of the good things in your life. Ponder the things that you cannot change and come to terms with them. There is a saying about that. Most importantly, say a prayer for all of those who are estranged in some way. Only through prayer and thanksgiving can problems be resolved.

Our meal changes little from year to year. Yes, we have turkey. We also have mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. Cranberries are a must as far as I am concerned. I do not mean those in a can. I prefer to cook some and also to make cranberry relish with oranges. I love the combination of turkey with cranberry. Did I mention stuffing? It would not be Thanksgiving dinner without stuffing or many call it dressing. Usually, we have some kind of vegetable. I prefer my vegetables with just butter and salt and pepper. I have roasted Brussel sprouts and they are good too.

Many in the family look forward to pies. We usually have pumpkin, apple, and mincemeat pies. I am not particularly fond of pie, but on Thanksgiving, I will eat a piece. My personal favorite is pumpkin and I do not need any whipped topping or whipped cream to go with it.

Talking about all of this food makes me hungry, I don’t know about you. Enjoy your time with your family. Talk, laugh, and recall those who now rest from their labors.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.