Here in the United States, Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday observed on the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving is celebrated in in many different nations, among a variety of cultures, at different times throughout the year. Although it has deep history with roots in religious and cultural traditions, it is now more commonly celebrated in a secular manner. So what is the history of Thanksgiving Day? Why do we still celebrate it? Why does our President “pardon” a turkey? Let us take a look…
In 1621, the Wampanoag Native Americans and other local tribes, who lived in present day Massachusetts and Rhode Island, befriended the pilgrims of Plymouth. The local Native Americans taught the pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap, catch fish and avoid poisonous plants. In November 1621, the Pilgrim’s successfully had their first corn harvest and the Governor organized a celebratory feast and invited their local Native American allies. The festival lasted for three days and now is considered the “first Thanksgiving.” Among the many conflicts between Native Americans and European colonists, this alliance was remarkable and unfortunately, one of few rare examples of peace and harmony during a tragic time period in our history. Since then it was celebrated on and off since 1789, after a proclamation by our first president, George Washington. However, it was President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 during the American Civil War, who proclaimed it an official national day thus recognizing it as a Federal Holiday.
So 395 years later and we are still celebrating this? Of course we are! Just like the Pilgrims at Plymouth, many of us have much to be thankful about. In today’s society we often forget to count our blessings and just focus on the now and our problems. It is always nice to have a day like Thanksgiving, where we are surrounded by family and close friends. Where we can stop focusing on the troubles of our world for just an instance and focus on each other. Where we can be thankful for a delicious meal and great company. Just remember that if you can do any of the above, you are already more fortunate than the majority of the population. Being thankful does not just mean having to say the words. Being thankful can also be a gesture or an action. Give some money to a charity you always wanted to or send some of your leftovers to a food bank or give it to a homeless person. Do you have to? Of course not. Do whatever you believe is best, but remember all our lives are intertwined, meaningful and can be impactful, just like the Native Americans and Pilgrims at Plymouth.
Finally, what is the deal with “pardoning” a turkey by our Commander in Chief? Although the history of why turkey is so commonly used is a bit of a mystery, turkey has become a traditional dish and a norm for Thanksgiving for quite some time. When the Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated their first feast, it is said that they may have had fowl, venison, fish, lobster and mussels, corn, squash, stew, among other things. It is not for sure if they had turkey, but many say it may have been present. The “pardoning” of a turkey is part of the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation ceremony that takes place at the White House every year. The President is presented a live domestic turkey, which is then spared and free to live out the rest of their days. "It is a little puzzling that I do this every year," Obama said in 2014, "but I will say that I enjoy it, because with all the tough stuff that swirls around in this office, it's nice once in awhile to just say, 'Happy Thanksgiving.' "
So Happy Thanksgiving everyone!