By: Kristen Kretz, Intermediate School Social Studies
A sumptuous feast …. a rousing family gathering …. a raucous football game …. wild midnight shopping and the traditional launch of the Holiday Season. These images have become synonymous with current Thanksgiving Day Celebrations. But, if one digs a bit deeper, even amongst the most secular and material observances, you can find something much more important. Most gatherings have at their core an appreciation of what is valued as good in this country we share and of arriving at this point in history. Underpinning all the celebrating is the individual family story regardless of date, path, or origin.
Those journeys are stories of migration and immigration and on some level, assimilation and synergy, from the earliest inhabitants, having traversed the Bering Strait to settle in this natural wonder we call home, to their descendants who shared in establishing this holiday. Interestingly, not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday of November which is more appropriate than one might think, as there is question as to who holds the honor of the first Thanksgiving.
Among the claims are the Spanish settlers who recorded having held a religious service and sharing a meal with a local Native American tribe on September 8, 1565 in St. Augustine, Florida. They celebrated the generosity of the native people who shared their harvest with newly arrived Spanish explorers. The feast consisted of salted pork and garbanzo beans. And of course, there is the familiar story of the English Plymouth Pilgrims celebrating with their Wampanoag neighbors in 1621.
The only original documentation from Plymouth is a personal letter by Edward Winslow detailing the relationship with the Wampanoag and their King Massasoit. It is clear from his letter that this group taught the settlers much about survival and they assisted one another in gathering stores to survive the winter. Once prepared, they jointly celebrated for about three days with much hunting that included deer and turkey, corn and a variety of berries. Historians have speculated that due to weather this probably occurred in October.
The actual observance of the Thanksgiving Day holiday was evolutionary as there is little official evidence to show it occurred annually until the nearly 40 years of lobbying by Sarah Josepha Hale, which finally succeeded when Abraham Lincoln sanctioned the observance in 1863 and Franklin D. Roosevelt fixed the date as the 4th Thursday of November in 1939. This traditional keeping of Thanksgiving is of particular importance to my family as nearly all of our ancestors arrived in the colonies in the mid 1600’s. One portion, the William Knapp party, came on the Winthrop Fleet in 1630 as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony migration, within 10 years of the original Plymouth gathering. So, as big a family gathering as we can muster, storytelling, turkey, corn, and pumpkins are a must for us.
But whatever your individual journey may be, I hope it is shared and shared repeatedly. Doing so reteaches us the lessons we have learned along the way with the passing of each generation and if we forget them or fail to pass them along, the learning will be for naught. Recounting our blessings and the freedom we have to do so is always paramount, but especially at this holiday. So, no matter your origin, menu, or activities…Happy Feasting and Remembering!