The First Thanksgiving

By no means do I consider myself a scholar of history. Some of you may think of me in more hysterical than historical terms but I have always enjoyed studying history and understanding who and what have gone before us in this world. This is true for our national day of Thanksgiving as I’ve always thought there was more to the holiday than just overeating, napping, and watching football (the latter two usually done concurrently).

So with the aid of the historical records, aka Google, here are a couple historical facts of the holiday which I have come to learn. And to some surprise, the Pilgrims along with their native American neighbors were the first to hold a Thanksgiving feast not the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys as some may think.

In autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims had much to be thankful. After the harvest, Massasoit ( the chief of the nearby Wampanoags) and about ninety other native Americans joined the Pilgrims for the great English tradition of Harvest Festival. The participants celebrated for several days, dining on venison, goose, duck, turkey, fish, and of course, cornbread, the result of a bountiful corn harvest. This tradition was repeated at harvest time in the following years.

I don’t see football listed in the day’s festivities but I’m sure that began soon thereafter with the forming of the New England Patriots.

So the Pilgrims and Wampanoags celebrated Thanksgiving with a whole lot of food, especially corn from a bountiful harvest. What I have learned from the historical record is that their corn harvest was bountiful because another native America named Squanto had taught the Pilgrims to fertilize the soil with dried fish remains to produce a stellar corn crop. I’m glad Squanto shared that little secret with the Pilgrims as one of my favorite dishes at Thanksgiving is corn casserole. Although the fish fertilizer usage may drop this dish down my list of favorites a little.

Did you know that it wasn’t until October 3rd, 1863, that the United States declared Thanksgiving a national holiday to be observed by all states on the same day?

Apparently, the states had been, up to that point, celebrating Thanksgiving on different days each year. Although I have not found archived evidence yet, I believe that this confusion of which day to feast and give thanks caused great stress amongst the states due to shortages of cranberry sauce and getting everyone to grandma’s home at the same time. Splitting of the Union was inevitable.

You probably know that it was President Lincoln that instituted the national observance of Thanksgiving day but did you know he made this decision partially based on the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor. She had written President Lincoln the following:

“You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authorities fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”

Through the encouragement of Sarah Josepha Hale, our president and nation began the practice of giving thanks together, mid Civil war as it was, on the same day. I like to think that establishing this national day of Thanksgiving aided in bringing our nation back to unity in some small way over the years after the Civil war.

Thanksgiving for our family has always been about unity and giving thanks for the things we hold dear to our hearts. Family is at the top of the thankful list for us and this year is no exception. Although this year, this Thanksgiving day, will be very different as we gather around the table at grandmas.

This will be the First Thanksgiving without Barb and Bill.

It can be, no, it IS very difficult to be thankful as we continue to mourn the passing of my wife Barb and her father Bill. They both have left us in 2017. Barb at age 55 and Bill at age 90. And this is after losing Barb’s brother Greg back in 2014. Too much loss in a few short years.

The holidays for our family have changed. It’s very hard to overcome the grief, sadness, and even anger that we have experienced and continue to live with. Thanksgiving 2017 will be tough but through the love we all share for Greg, Barb, and Bill, and for one another, we go on.

We’ll gather this Thanksgiving to lean upon one another, to cry a little together, and to remember all the years of love we’ve shared at grandmas. We’ll remember Greg’s ornery smile as he would yell down the basement stairs at the boys, Barb’s joyful face as she held the newest baby, and Bill’s prayer at the table. Bill almost always ended his prayer of thanks with the words “So that we may walk hand in hand with you through eternity.”

And that’s exactly what Greg, Barb, and Bill are doing their First Thanksgiving in Heaven together again.

Even in my grief, I find joy in knowing that they are walking with their Lord hand in hand now. No more illness, no more pain, no more worries. Just pure joy. And for that, I am truly thankful and look forward to joining them someday.

As some of you know, Barb liked to tape bible verses and encouraging quotes on the inside of our kitchen cabinet doors. Every time I or the kids would open them we would see her little messages to us. She claimed they were just reminders to herself but I know and appreciate her dual purpose in posting these.

I am so thankful for her unending faith and love in her God and in her family. Her cabinet encouragements are precious to me. They will not be coming down anytime soon.

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