Friday, November 21, 2014

What The Heck Happened to Thanksgiving?!

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, please put a penny in the old man's hat.  If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do.  If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!"   

So goes the old English Christmas carol.  Christmas is on the way! Hooray! Black Friday is almost here! Hooray! Time to look and see what the stores will offer this year that we certainly cannot live without!  Hooray!  Preparations for the Christmas season are going on in all the stores and shops and in my neck of the woods, Christmas parades will be commencing this coming weekend!  Concerts and Santa and drive through Nativities are getting ready for holiday visitors! Amidst all of these festive preparations, I have one question for you!  WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO THANKSGIVING? 

This week I am taking a bit of a break from recipes and kitchen tips.  I hope you will indulge me and I hope you will reflect and answer this question for yourself.  Indeed, what did happen to this fabulous fall holiday of Thanksgiving?  Certainly a North American holiday, however other countries may observe their own version.  Thanksgiving is not really celebrated anywhere else in the world, quite like it is here in the United States.  Canada has their Thanksgiving day at the beginning of October.  In the States, we celebrate this day of reflection and thanks on the fourth Thursday of November, by preparing a bountiful meal and gathering those who are close and special to us.  Have you ever really thought about the true significance of what this holiday represents?  Let's take a closer look, in case you have forgotten or never even knew.  Thanksgiving is really about more than just stuffing a Butterball into the oven and stuffing ourselves with pumpkin and pecan pie.  The fact is, we should be doing a little more than just eating on this day of thanks. 

We all know about the Pilgrims who traveled here  in 1620's to escape religious persecution.   Do we really understand the magnitude of what they did and the conditions that they experienced?  The Pilgrims set out from Europe in two ships.  The Mayflower and the Speedwell.  They had to turn around twice because the latter of the two ships began to leak.  Finally making the decision to abandon the Speedwell and transferring all the passengers and a good portion of it's cargo to the Mayflower, their journey finally got underway on September 6, 1620.  The journey was rife with troubles, the worst of which was structural damage sustained to one of the main beams of the Mayflower during a violent ocean storm.  They were able to temporarily fix the beam with what they called "A great iron screw", which could have been what we may know as a type of floor jack.  This held the beam in place long enough for the Pilgrims to reach Cape Cod on November 11, 1620.  If you were counting this journey took 66 days! 

Over 100 people, men, women and children along with most of their belongings as well as some farm animals all on this ship that was most likely only designed to carry cargo, making this journey in order to make a better life for themselves and their children.  This was all done with special permission from the King of England, who allowed the Pilgrims to colonize in North America.  When they arrived, there was a group who did not want to live in the area of what we now call Plymouth (they called it Plimoth).  This group wished to live closer to what we now know as New York and had to get special permission, yet again in the form of what was called a patent from the King in order to do this.  Thus the "Mayflower Compact" was drawn.   John Quincy Adams was quoted as saying “the only instance in human history of that positive, original, social compact”.  It is believed to be an inspiration for the form and text of the Declaration of Independence.

The Pilgrims were over 100 strong when they came here and during their first year in North America they failed miserably.  They did not have adequate housing, they were not prepared for the weather and they were certainly not prepared for the growing conditions and as a result did not have enough of a harvest to sustain themselves through their first cold winter.  After their first year their numbers had dwindled to 52. 

During their first year, the Pilgrims had established a relationship by treaty with local native Americans in the area.  The treaty had six points. Neither party would harm the other. If anything was stolen, it would be returned and the offending person returned to his own people for punishment. Both sides agreed to leave their weapons behind when meeting, and the two groups would serve as allies in times of war. Squanto, a Wampanoag man who had been taken captive by English sailors and lived for a time in London, came to live with the colonists and instructed them in growing Indian corn.
In the fall of 1621, the colonists marked their first harvest with a three-day celebration. Chief Massasoit and 90 of his men joined the Pilgrims for feasting and entertainment said to have lasted three days!

The Pilgrims probably did not eat turkey and most likely ate what was available to them such as  pheasant, quail, duck, rabbit, squirrel and other small game along with whatever they were able to make from their  harvest.  Certainly not the feast we know and love today.  That came much later.

While the Pilgrims and their journey were the impetus for what we know as Thanksgiving, did you know that George Washington declared November 26,1789 as a ”day of  public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God."  However, Thanksgiving has been observed by annual presidential proclamation since 1863.  In 1941 federal legislation, signed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that the fourth Thursday of November should be set aside for the observance or what we refer to as the holiday of Thanksgiving. 

Indeed, Thanksgiving is more than food.  It is a time for us to reflect on where we have come from.  A time for us to give thanks inwardly and outwardly for what the year has brought.  It is a time to celebrate the end of a hopefully, bountiful harvest and even, perhaps, a meager one, but a harvest, nonetheless.  A time to rest and reflect after months of hard work and dedication to the tasks of everyday life.  It is a time to remember that our journey is rich with lessons and with rewards.  Thanksgiving is an important part of who we are as a people and as a nation. Certainly not a time to forget the importance of this day and pass it off as something of a chore.  In my opinion, we have allowed Thanksgiving to become nothing more than a gateway to the commercialism of Christmas.  We need to take a moment and really celebrate Thanksgiving for what it really is.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of that classic Norman Rockwell painting "Freedom from Want".  In fact Norman Rockwell is my favorite American artist and his "Four Freedom's" paintings are my favorites.  Prints of them hang on my living room wall.  They are a constant reminder of what I am thankful for and what was done by others so that I could live and raise my family in a free society.  Freedom from Want is the iconic picture of a family seated together for the Thanksgiving meal with the matriarch presenting the perfectly roasted turkey and all the trimmings to awaiting loved ones.  This is what I always think of when Thanksgiving rolls around.  There is no substitute for the love of family.  The anticipation of seeing friends and loved ones who have been gone the whole year.  The warm memories of those who are no longer present at the table fill our hearts with many emotions.  Couple this with the fabulous aromas coming from the kitchen on this day.  They started early in the morning and will continue to linger in the air long after the last bite of pie and sip of hot coffee has been consumed.  Norman got it right, in my opinion and in my mind's eye, Thanksgiving will always be the picture of Freedom from Want. 

So this year, while you are preparing in the run up to the big day, take a few minutes and remember what and who you are thankful for.  There is no wrong answer!  Just be thankful and remember that there is more to this day than wolfing down your meal so you can go stand in line outside of some big box store and wait to rush inside to get the deal of the century on what has been deemed the most popular whirligig of the season.   It is about being thankful for what you have and who you have in your life for as long as you may have them in your life.  It could all be gone tomorrow so give thanks today and really give thanks on Thanksgiving! 


Until Next time, I'll See Ya!