I just watched The History of Thanksgiving on The History Channel hosted by CBS Early Show host, Harry Smith. For the most part, he did a good job but then ended the program by noting this grand celebration's date on the last Thursday in November (Yikes). They did their best to dispel all the old myths about the holiday and then blew it at the end!
Despite all the myths, Plimouth Plantation, the ultimate authority, reflects that the truth is the Pilgrims never celebrated what we now refer to as “Thanksgiving.” They did have a great three day secular “harvest feast” (Samhain anyone?) in 1621 (maybe around November 11?) with the Wampanoag First Nation (who brought most of the food) though they never repeated it at any point in their history. They never called it Thanksgiving and Pilgrim men never wore those black steeple hats with a buckle, black breeches, square white collar and cuffs and wide buckled belts.
Notwithstanding George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation, we probably wouldn’t have this celebration were it not for a Mrs. Sarah Joespha Hale whose lobbying finally prompted Abraham Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, the last Thursday in November. The celebration of Thanksgiving on the next to the last Thursday in November was Theodore Roosevelt’s commercially inspired 1939 idea. In 1941 Congress declared Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November where it now proudly reposes.
Thanksgiving has evolved into a festive celebration of Family & Friends and a time to reflect on Life, express gratitude for our blessings and recognize the opportunities afforded to all free men to pursue their own destiny. This observance is not the exclusive domain of some alleged American Aristocracy, rather an inclusive celebration for all those that choose to embrace its tenets. We should never fail to pause at least once a year, take a deep breath and celebrate the blessings of Family and Friends for yet another twelve months.
In the Scottish Community we have a great habit of saying the names of our ancestors and our recently departed Friends and Family usually on the occasion of our many Scottish Festivals & Highland Games (Flowers of The Forest). On high occasions in a place of honor we will set out an empty plate, silverware and glass representing those who are no longer among the living or cannot attend the function. They are, then, with us in spirit. Thanksgiving seems most appropriate for this tradition.
All of this comes from a grand Mayflower descendent. My heroes growing up were Myles Standish and John Alden. I wonder if The Society of Mayflower Descendents will throw me out?
Thanks for being part of my Life and have a safe and prosperous holiday.