Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thoughts of Thanksgiving

Even though America residing Spaniards were celebrating Thanksgiving as early as the 16th century, and residents of Jamestown adopted the holiday in
 photo Scampi served
Title: The First Thanksgiving | Date: between circa 1912 and circa 1915 | Painter: Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930) | This media picture is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.
1607, Americans traditionally accredit the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Plantation, and their Wampanoag guests, with the first celebration of Thanksgiving in 1621.

According to legend, the Plymouth settlers invited their Native American friends of the Wampanoag Tribe to a harvest feast in celebration of, and thanks for, their first successful growing season.  This initial feast of waterfowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash spawned the seedlings of the tradition Americans enjoy today.

However, the agrarian observance wouldn't be an official part of the American calendar for another two centuries.  Prior to 1863, citizens of New England and other Northern states scheduled their own Thanksgiving holidays, ranging anywhere from October to January.  Meanwhile, the Southern U.S. states didn't really acknowledge the observance at all.

 photo Scampi served
Title: Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) | Date: circa 1831 | Painter: James Reid Lambdin (1807-1889) | This picture is in the public domain. The copyright has expired prior to January 1, 1923.
Then along came Sarah Josepha Hale, the 74-year-old editor of Godey's  Lady's BookHale spent 17 years writing letters to five Presidents of the United States: Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln; urging them to designate a nationally recognized day of Thanksgiving.

Some say, Lincoln saw the holiday as a tool to unite the country during a bloody civil war.  Others claim, he capitulated simply to end the barrage of letters.  In any case, President Lincoln finally responded to Mrs. Hale's repeated requests by setting aside the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.

The following proclamation was written by Secretary of State William Seward, to be read by President Abraham Lincoln on October 3rd, 1863. 
"By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. 

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. 

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

 William H. Seward,
Secretary of State"

 photo Scampi served
Description: Tender, juicy roast turkey - the main attraction - with old-fashioned gravy, cranberry sauce, smashed potatoes, baked green beans, sweet and sour cod, steamed rice, pickled green papaya relish, flan, pigs in a blanket... | 
Date: 11/23/2005 | Photographer: Ms. Jones from California | This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Around WWII, the date fluctuated between the fourth Thursday of November and the last Thursday of November, but for the most part the fourth Thursday of November has been known as Thanksgiving in the U.S. ever since President Lincoln  spoke those eloquent words.

What began as an acknowledgement of the harvest and our agrarian roots has morphed into an annual glorification of food and football.  Don't get me wrong, food is a fabulous way to bring people together to enjoy traditional dishes and one another's company.  It's when the gratitude, the day is named for, becomes buried beneath mounds of potatoes and stuffing that the spirit of the day is lost.

We live in the most technically advanced era the world has ever known.  Most of us have access to; food from around the world, medicines for almost any condition, ideas from everywhere (thanks to cable & the internet), and warm shelter.  These things have become such a part of everyday life, we forget how many people go without these things.

Therefore, on November 28th of this year, as we're passing the hot buttered biscuits, let's honor the day by expressing gratitude by all we have to be thankful for.


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