The mere thought of Thanksgiving Day invokes visions of a beautiful laid out table, covered with linen, adorned by china, and delicious foot. This family tradition, started so long ago, continues down the generations, with no end in sight for the future generations to come. It is a purely American holiday, that causes us to pause and acknowledge how truly thankful we should be.
Through the years, the holiday has refined itself to what it is today. Foods are basically the same as they were then, totally familiar to us.
Many pioneers who came to American shores would be surprised by the "new goods" we now deem as part of our Thanksgiving table. These pioneers came from many lands, mostly originating at the beginning from Europe: the English, who came to Virginia in 1607, and the New England in 1620; the Dutch, who settled in New York in 1623; the Finns and Swedes in Delaware in the 1620's; the English Quakers in Pennsylvania in 1681; and the Germans also in Pennsylvania about 1690.
These people beheld a wilderness of game animals which include: deer, moose, elk, rabbits and squirrels. Food teemed from the eastern shores, and fruits, such as mulberries, cherries, grapes and walnuts were there for the taking.
Indeed, America was land of plenty - if you knew which plants were safe to eat and if you could preserve them for when the winds blew cold. Many plants were unfamiliar to the Europeans. Only with the help of the Native Americans who lived upon the land, did the settlers survive. The Indians introduced lima beans, peppers, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes and corn into the settlers diet of cabbage, parsnips and herbs.
Corn was the crucial vegetable, which could be roasted, boiled, made into pudding and bread. Indians taught the settlers to grow beans up cornstalks, thereby saving precious land and space. These vegetables, harvested and cooked together, made a popular dish of succotash.
When we think of proper table manners at the Thanksgiving meal, many orderly images come to mind. For the settlers, however, the time to sit down and give thanks was too fleeting - there was just too much to be done. A table was usually made from simple planks of wood. Sometimes there weren't any chairs! As a result, the family members literally "ate and ran".
Dinnerware was hard to come by. Sometimes spoons were carved out of wood. More creative spoons were made from seashells and walnut shells attached with twig handles. Pewter came later and was expensive. Forks were virtually unknown until the mid 1700's.
The most common way to eat food was from a trencher-square blocks of wood in which bowls had been hollowed out of on one side. The other side was usually flat, so that a piece of pie could be eaten upon it. One side had the main course, and "flip" the other side held dessert.
Some trenchers didn't even get this fancy. Some families used stale bread instead of wood. The food, once poured on the bread, could be entirely consumed. No dish washing!
Cups were usually shared around a table. Made of wood and called a ‘noggin," the cup usually contained cider or beer.
No dainty cleanliness for these early folks. Without many forks or spoons, the fingers were the tools of choice.
One common necessity did exist then as it does today when eating the Thanksgiving meal - napkins! Upon laps and tied around necks, the sight is the same. As time went on, tables were covered with cloths, and wooden utensils gave way to china and glassware.
Although many types of poultry could be found in the New World, only one is truly associated with Thanksgiving Day: the turkey. Benjamin Franklin deemed the turkey such a noble bird that he wanted it to be the national bird of America, rather than the eagle! Needless to say, the eagle won out.
Turkeys in colonial days could be huge: some weighed over 30 pounds! The wild birds often traveled in flocks numbering over a hundred or more. In contrast to today's domesticated turkey, the wild turkey had a beautiful purple and bronze colored plummage. No doubt the feathers were greatly prized as well.
Some foods, as said before, were unfamiliar to new settlers to America. Sweet potatoes (actually roots) and squash, which are often included on the Thanksgiving Day table, are American. Potatoes (white), a wonderful accompaniment, were introduced from overseas in the 1700's. Tomatoes which are generously tossed into salads, were thought to be poisonous and people refused to eat them until after the American Revolution.
What shall you serve at your Thanksgiving table this year? With so many people from different backgrounds in America, the choices are endless. Each family adds its own special touch to the holiday. Still, the main message of the holiday is Thanksgiving, a moment to gather with family and friends in the busy turning of life - just to give thanks for what we have and who we are - AMERICANS!
On Thanksgiving Day, American Families gather around tables laden with food and give thanks for the blessing of the past year. In kitchens across the continent women bustle about, preparing turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. This American holiday has been celebrated since the Pilgrims first set aside an occasion to thank God for a plentiful harvest.
The pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving festival at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in October, 1621. The bitter winter of 1620, when the ship "Mayflower" had brought them to a new country, was over. They had known hunger, and sickness had carried away half the band of about 100 settlers.
But life was better now. The seeds sown early in 1621 had produced a harvest that allowed them to increase their scanty rations. The settlers were enjoying good health. Work was going ahead on the houses they were building along Town Brook. They walked peacefully and safely in the woods, for they had made friends with the Indians and signed a long-lasting peace treaty with Massasoit, head chief of the Wampanoags.
Because of their good fortune, the Pilgrims decreed a holiday on which all might, "after a more special manner, rejoice together."
Governor Bradford sent four men to shoot waterfowl and wild turkeys. The women worked hard cooking the food. Chief Massasoit was invited to the feast, and he brought with him 90 brightly painted braves--about four times the number of Pilgrim men. Some of Massasoit's men made themselves useful, going into the forest and bagging five deer.
It was a gay open-air festival, held in the field along the north bank of Town Brook. There were games of skill and chance. The Indians entertained with some of their dances. Captain Miles Standish staged a military review of his tiny force. There was target shooting with bows and arrows and firearms.
For 3 days the festivities went on, with the Pilgrims and their guests gorging themselves on venison cooked on a spit over a blazing open fire, roast ducks and geese, clams and other shellfish, smoked eel, groundnuts (a kind of potatolike root) baked in hot ashes, peas, salad greens, herbs, corn pones, and Injun (corn-rye) bread. The pilgrims served wine made from wild grapes.
There were cranberries by the bushel in neighboring bogs. But it is doubtful that the Pilgrims had yet found a tasty way of using them. It is also doubtful that the feast included another tasty invention - pumpkin pie. If such pie was served, it is certain that it was not topped with rich whipped cream, for the Pilgrims had no cows as yet and would not have any for another 3 years.
After the first New England Thanksgiving the custom spread throughout the colonies, but each region chose its own date. In 1789 George Washington, the first president of the United States, proclaimed November 26 a day of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving day continued to be celebrated in the United States on different days in different states until Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book, decided to do something about it. For more than 30 years she wrote letters to the governors and presidents asking them to make Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.
Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln issued a White House proclamation calling on the "whole American people" wherever they lived to unite "with one heart and one voice" in observing a special day of thanksgiving.
Setting apart the last Thursday of November for the purpose, the President urged prayers in the churches and in the homes to "implore the interposition of the almighty had to heal the wounds of the nations and to restore it...to full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union." He also states that they express heartfeld thanks for the "blessing of fruitful fields and healthful skies."
In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt advanced Thanksgiving Day one week. However, since some states used the new date and others the old, it was changed again 2 years later. Thanksgiving Day is now celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.
The theme of Thanksgiving has always been peace and plenty, health and happiness. To be truly observed, it involves not merely "thanks" but "giving", too. It is a time for special generosity in remembering and helping the less fortunate.
By George F. Willison, Author, Saints and Strangers; Lives of Pilgrim Fathers and Their Families
Noteworth information: ***It has been pointed out that George Washington did this as a "one time only" thing in 1789, and it was to celebrate the new Constitution. It was not an annual event since Washington's successors let it drop completely.
Additional Side Note : ***The reason Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday of November..was commercialism. He hoped to woo retailers, who complained that they needed more time to "make proper provision for the Christmas Rush." This move of the date outraged a few folks, notable Republicans, who claimed Roosevelt was trampling sacred traditions. For two years, people celebrated Thanksgiving on one of two different days, depending on their political inclinations!
The above additional information was supplied by Cardigan. Thanks Cardigan for the comments and your interests.
Our Thanksgiving Gift to you!
"The Pilgrims Came"
By Annette Wynne
The Pilgrims came across the sea,
And never thought of you and me;
And yet it's very strange the way
We think of them Thanksgiving Day.
We tell their story, old and true,
Of how they sailed across the blue,
And found a new land to be free
And built their homes quite near the sea.
Every child knows well the tale
Of how they bravely turned the sail,
And journeyed many a day and night,
To worship God as they thought right.
The people think that they were sad,
And grave; I'm sure that they were glad--
They made Thanksgiving Day--that's fun--
We thank the Pilgrims, every one!
By Lydia Maria Child
Over the river and through the wood,
To grandfather's house we'll go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river and through the wood,--
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes
And bites the nose
As over the ground we go.
Over the river and through the wood,
To have a first-rate play,
Hear the bells ring
Hurrah for Thansgiving Day!
Over the river and through the wood,
Trot fast, my dapple gray!
Spring over the ground
Like a hunting hound!
For this is Thanksgiving Day!
Over the river and through the wood,
And straight through the barnyard gate;
We seem to go
It is so hard to wait!
Over the river and through the wood,
We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
Now grandmother's cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun!
Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the Pumpkin Pie!
He chastens and hastens, His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,
Sing praises to his name; He forgets not his own.
We come to this table today, O Lord, humble and thankful and glad.
We thank Thee first for the great miracle of life, for the exaltation of being human, for the capacity of love.
We thank Thee for joys both great and simple --
For wonder, dreams and hope;
For the newness of each day;
For laughter and song and a merry heart;
For compassion waiting within to be kindled;
For the forbearance of friends and the smile of a stranger;
For the arching of the earth and trees and heavens and the fruit of all three;
For the wisdom of the old;
For the courage of the young;
For the promise of the child;
For the strength that comes when needed;
For this family united here today.
Of those to whom much is given, much is required.
May we and our children remember this.
A Beautiful Heart
Please take time to read, you just might miss a piece of your own Heart.
One day a young woman was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that she had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired her heart for it was perfect.
There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young woman was very proud and boasted more loudly about her beautiful heart.
Suddenly, an old woman appeared at the front of the crowd and said, Why, your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine. "The crowd and the young woman looked at the old woman's heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars, it had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn't fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing.
The people stared -- How can she say her heart is more beautiful, they thought? The young woman looked at the old woman's heart and saw itsstate and laughed.
You must be joking," she said. "Compare your heart with mine. Mine is perfect and yours is a mass of scars and tears."
"Yes," said the old woman, "yours is perfect looking but I could never trade with you.
You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them, and often they give me a piece of their heart, which fits into the empty place in my heart. But because the pieces aren't exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared.
Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn't returned a piece of their heart to me. These are the empty gouges -- giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?"
The young woman stood silently with tears running down her cheeks. She walked up to the old woman, reached into her perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. She offered it to the old woman with trembling hands. The old woman took her offering, placed it in her heart and then took a piece from her old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young woman's heart. It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges.
The young woman looked at her heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old woman's heart flowed into hers. They embraced and walked away side by side.
Let everyone know each day how much they mean to you, they may be gone tomorrow. I am thankful that I don't have a perfect heart. Just think of all the love I would have missed.
Remember; don't be afraid to show your love to those people who matter to you. It's what life is all about! We all miss too many opportunities and have too many regrets, so take this opportunity to share this with someone you love!
Here's to the good old turkey,
The bird that comes each fall,
And with his sweet persuasive meat
Makes gobblers of us all!
Come, ye thankful people, come
Raise the song of harvest-home:
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin.
Henry Alnord (1810-1871)
Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from east and from west,
From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest.
John Greenleaf Whittier (1844)
From my Dear Friend, Maggie! Thank You!
Thanksgiving Recommended Reading
175 Easy-To-Do Thanksgiving Crafts
By Sharon Dunn Umnik
From turkeys, Pilgrims, cornucopias, and wreaths to greeting cards, games, jewelry, and holiday-table accessories--everything you need to create a memorable Thanksgiving can be found in this fun-filled craft book.
Crafts for Thanksgiving (Holiday Crafts for Kids)
By Kathy Ross
Twenty simple holiday-related craft projects that use easy-to-find materials are presented with brief instructions and colorful illustrations. The projects, which vary greatly in appeal, include some interesting crafts and some silly ones.
An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving
By Louisa May Alcott
First published in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1881, the story reflects Alcott's fondness for wholesome family life and the simple pleasures of another era.
Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving
By Dave Pilkey
In a silly takeoff on he Night before Christmas,eight schoolchildren visit a turkey farm and rescue the turkeys from their Thanksgiving fate.
A Child's Story of Thanksgiving
By Laura Rader
From the Mayflower to modern times, this easy-to-read text recounts the traditional tale of the First Thanksgiving in 15th century Massachusetts.
The First Thanksgiving
By Linda Hayward
A text reminiscent of basal readers tells the story of the first Thanksgiving from the launching of the Mayflower to the extended celebration.
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