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Family makes today special

Today is Thanksgiving, in my opinion is our greatest holiday. Thanksgiving is the holiday like no other that still brings families together from near and far to give thanks for the good things in life and to celebrate the meaning of family.

Throughout our history beginning during the earliest days of our nation presidents often declared “days of thanksgiving.” However, the celebration first became a yearly national holiday in 1863 when President Lincoln signed a proclamation naming the fourth Thursday in November as a day of National Thanksgiving, prompted in part by Union successes in the Civil War that year. Since then, it has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November except for a three-year period from 1939 to 1941 when the heavy hand of President Roosevelt intervened to move the holiday to a week earlier in hopes of extending the Christmas shopping season as an anti-depression measure.

Roosevelt’s change didn’t go over well with Republican’s who saw it as an attack on President Lincoln’s memory nor with others who remembered Roosevelts Supreme Court packing move a few years earlier.

After this a bill was passed declaring that Thanksgiving would fall on the fourth Thursday of November and not at the whim of whomever was president.

The English religious separatists who came to be called Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth on Massachusetts Bay in the late fall of 1620. Woefully ill prepared nearly half of the settlers died during that first winter. Fortunately, Squanto, a Native American who had learned English while a slave in Europe provided food to the Pilgrims that first winter and in the spring taught them how to grow corn, where to hunt and where to harvest local seafood. It’s interesting to note that he did not teach the Pilgrims to throw a dead fish into the hill with the corn seeds as that had been done by English farmers for many years.

Tradition credits the first celebration of Thanksgiving in America to our Pilgrim forefathers in the Plymouth colony in 1621 although what they were celebrating was a traditional English harvest festival. The harvest in 1621 while not bountiful did provide sufficient food to see them through to the next spring.

The Pilgrims decided to hold a harvest festival to celebrate that harvest. The story goes that the celebrations lasted three days at some point between September 21st and November 11th. According to Wampanoag tribal legend Native Americans were not invited to the feast but on hearing shouting and the firing of guns from Plymouth thought a war was about to begin. However, on approaching the settlement the Native Americans were invited by the Pilgrims to attend the celebration.

Members of the tribe then joined with the Pilgrims to form hunting parties that set off on a hunt that resulted in 5 deer being provided for the meal along with ducks and other water fowl and seafood that included clams, oysters, lobsters, bass and cod.

Although native to the Americas turkey was not on the menu. The feast was cooked by four Pilgrim women who had survived the previous winter. What the men did during the meal preparation is unknown as neither television or American football had been invented at the time.

According to histories of the Plymouth Colony the Pilgrims celebrated their first true Thanksgiving celebration in July of 1623 after excellent weather portended a truly bountiful harvest. While it is likely that the first Thanksgiving occurred in Plymouth it should be noted that Virginia, Florida, and Texas have staked claims that early colonists in those states celebrated the first “true” American Thanksgiving and even in Massachusetts site of both the Plymouth and Bay Colonies there are some who support the claim that the Puritans of the Bay Colony celebrated the first Thanksgiving. But in the end does it really matter who was first? I don’t think so.

For me Thanksgiving is our greatest holiday. It is a national holiday when we come together as a nation and as families to celebrate and give thanks for the good things that have occurred in our lives and in some cases for the bad things that did not have as bad an impact as they could have.

However, I think that “family” is the key word here because it really is a family holiday.

Even in this rapidly expanding world with families moving away from the family homestead this is a day when the greatest effort seems to be made to come together as a family, not just to give thanks but also to celebrate those things that make family such an important factor in American life.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday and it probably is the same for many of you. Enjoy the holiday.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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