For most modern Americans, Thanksgiving is a time of family gatherings, a huge turkey dinner, and NFL teams with losing records. In this pandemic year of 2020, however, we should carefully consider how safe those large family gatherings actually are. And I realize that many of us may not be in the mood for gratitude, as if we should somehow be thankful for the half-eaten Twinkie at the bottom of the Dumpster of life.
As we ponder our current fate, let’s take a good hard look at the first Thanksgiving. As part of my research, I Googled “first Thanksgiving.” According to History.com, it was quite a bittersweet event. “Just over 50 colonists are believed to have attended, including 22 men, four married women — including Edward Winslow’s wife — and more than 25 children and teenagers. These were the lucky ones who had made it through a rough entry into the New World, including a harsh winter during which an epidemic of disease swept through the colony, felling nearly half the original group. Some 78 percent of the women who had arrived on the Mayflower had died during the first winter, a far higher percentage than for men or children.” Maybe 2020 isn’t as bad as some other Thanksgivings were after all.
While wild turkey may have been on the menu, the first Thanksgiving dinner featured different fare than we currently consume. Native Americans presented the grateful colonists with five deer, and the plentiful fish and shellfish in the area rounded out the protein part of the menu. They probably served up fruits and vegetables that the colonists grew in their home gardens: cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, leeks, lettuce, parsnips, and pumpkins. There was, however, no pumpkin pie! The colony didn’t have flour or butter, much less an oven.
That 1621 celebration is remembered as the “First Thanksgiving in Plymouth.” While it might be the first one in that location, there may have been earlier celebrations.
The official Wikipedia Thanksgiving website postulates, “The precise historical origin of the holiday is disputed. Although Americans commonly believe that the first Thanksgiving happened in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, there is strong evidence for earlier celebrations in Canada (1578) and by Spanish explorers in Florida (1565).” It figures that the Canadians and the Spaniards want to claim our holiday. Really … do they even have turkeys in Spain? What did the Spanish explorers really have to be thankful for in the mosquito-filled swamps that made up the Florida of 1565? And let’s mention Canada — the Canadians don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving in the correct month – someone should tell them that it’s really in November. And it certainly isn’t on a Monday! Thanksgiving … Thursday … notice the similarities in the first two letters?
Whichever Thanksgiving you celebrate, it’s interesting to note that it took until 1863 for the holiday to catch on as a national observance here in the United States, the Official Home of Thanksgiving. Coincidentally, that was the same year that the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions began hosting the NFL Thanksgiving Classic games. It took another 78 years for the U.S. government to finalize that Thanksgiving was to fall on the fourth Thursday in November. At least they got the month and day correct.
If Benjamin Franklin had his way, Thanksgiving’s guest of honor would be our national bird. Franklin preferred the turkey over the bald eagle, noting that the eagle’s soaring majesty couldn’t compare to the ultimate sacrifices that turkeys made to keep pilgrims and colonists from starving in the New World. Let’s face the truth: the eagle looks better on the dollar bill, the turkey better on the serving dish.
However you celebrate Thanksgiving (and the subsequent Leftover Turkey Sandwich Weekend), let’s be thankful that the Christmas shopping season has actually already hit us full force. The ads are already starting, as the Great American Venture of separating people from their hard-earned cash has begun in earnest. While there are so many online options available, it’s always better to do whatever you can do to shop local this holiday season and keep our local economy strong.
If there’s anything I am truly thankful for, it’s that the busiest ever 2020 hurricane season has shown us mercy — so far. What will go down in history as the most active Atlantic tropical cyclone season on record basically left us alone. And there’s where I find a true measure of gratitude: to whomever it is “up there” who is responsible for our lack of action this year, I have but two words: Thank You.