Thanksgiving: the forgotten holiday (and my favorite)

The radio station I listen to most began playing Christmas music around the clock during the first week of November. At least they waited until after Halloween. Boo. Or is that bah humbug?

Many retailers start their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day. A definite bah humbug.

Most of us spend the fourth Thursday of November eating turkey and all the trimmings, and watching the Detroit Lions lose and other forms of football.

There’s a holiday in there somewhere. At least, there used to be.

Thanksgiving began on our soil before the United States was formed.

According to, In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers — religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, established a village at Plymouth.

Only half of those passengers survived the winter. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received a visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition.

Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, their governor, William Bradford, organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving” — although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term — the festival lasted for three days.

Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis became common practice in other New England settlements as well. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

In 1817, New York became the first of several states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each celebrated it on a different day. In 1827, the noted magazine editor and writer Sarah Josepha Hale — author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” — launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. President Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

Thanks to FDR, the holiday does have a commercial twist.

So, what are we thankful for anyway?

It’s been awhile since I made a list. I don’t have to think hard to find plenty of reasons to give thanks: Good health, food on the table and in the refrigerator, a home over my head and a wonderful family, for starters. I never want to take those things for granted.

I’ve been out of work most of this year, but financially we’re doing fine. I’m very thankful for that. With more time on my hands than I’m used to, I’ve been expanding my volunteer efforts. That helps give life meaning. And I began this blog to get back into writing. Thank you for reading it.

When our three sons were in high school, the four of us would play Ultimate Frisbee on Thanksgiving morning with a group of guys at the local high school. The game continues, but we’ve all moved away. I miss it.

After the game, we’d prepare for the traditional Thanksgiving meal, either at our house or at my parents’ house an hour and a half down the highway. That family meal is my favorite of the year. The food is so good! So is the family get-together. This year, my sister and her boyfriend will join us.

And we aren’t too upset when the Lions lose, since we kind of expect it anyway.

Before we dive too deeply into the Christmas season, let’s take a moment to give thanks. For something. For someone.

No matter what our circumstances are, whether we can afford a big turkey meal or not, we should give thanks. For life. For God. For our country. For so much more.

Let’s write that list.


4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving: the forgotten holiday (and my favorite)

  1. Funny- I’m NEVER on linkedin but happened to be doing some email catchup and the rabbit trail led me here and to my friends blog. Bill- great stuff. Thanks for sharing your heart and some history. I am certainly thankful for you my bro! -John


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s