Thanksgiving. The ultimate all-American holiday. I will note however, “Thanksgivings” are also throughout history a common thing in many cultures after bringing in the harvest.
Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to the colonies of New England. Several Thanksgivings were held in early New England history that have been identified as being the first feasts including Pilgrim holidays in Plymouth in 1621 and 1623, and a Puritan holiday in Boston in 1631.
However, there was a regional battle forever as to where the first Thanksgiving was held. Was it New England or in Virginia? You see, in 1619 the arrival of English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, concluded with a religious celebration as dictated by the group’s charter. A Thanksgiving.
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~ Thornton Wilder
Thanksgiving and as to what it meant carried on into the Revolutionary War Era. A lot of it involved proclamations and political wrangling which is well, an American tradition, correct? As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.”
Thanksgiving was observed on various dates throughout our history. Truthfully if you research it, the actual date Thanksgiving was observed varied from state to state. The final Thursday in November had become the customary date in most U.S. states by the beginning of the 19th century, and Halloween in 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a presidential proclamation changing the holiday to the next to last Thursday in November, for business and commerce reasons.
Then along came President John F. Kennedy and his Proclamation 3560 on November 5, 1963, which said in part: “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.” He wanted to bridge the gap between the North and South rivalries over who Thanksgivinged first.
There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American. ~O. Henry
So now to our family and other Thanksgivings. By “our” I mean everyone out there. Are they ever the perfect holiday we envision from Currier and Ives prints? Or Norman Rockwell? Or the Hallmark Channel movies and reruns of The Waltons?
I know mine haven’t been but I still love the holiday. Some of my favorite Thanksgivings spent as a child were all of the ones we spent with family friends who moved from Pennsylvania to Bethesda, Maryland and then to Summit, New Jersey. The celebrations were large (lots of kids), loud (lots of kids and lots of adults laughing), and happy. The food was amazing and no one was expected to be perfect.
I think the best Thanksgivings are spent with those you choose to be with. Not those you feel obligated to be with.
Childhood Thanksgivings I found less fun growing up were the early childhood ones spent with my parents’ respective siblings. Suffice it to say, the adults really didn’t get along, really didn’t even know each other as adults, but felt free to judge each other. So the end result was stiff, and slightly uncomfortable Thanksgivings. The Waltons we weren’t.
As my sister and I grew into adulthood we also had Thanksgivings we spent with our cousin Suzy and her family. I loved those because Suzy made it fun. Then my sister married first so Thanksgivings were split between our family and her in-laws. I also had the Thanksgiving many years prior to when my sister married where my parents decided they were bringing Thanksgiving to my sister and a then boyfriend in New York City and I was adopted by a friend’s family for dinner. That was one of my favorite years and we did not even have turkey. We had a huge capon. If memory serves that was because my friend’s dad did not like turkey. And my friend’s growing up home was made for holidays. It was old and cheerful and warm.
Thanksgiving is an emotional holiday. People travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often. ~Johnny Carson
For me there was an 8 plus year period of Thanksgivings I have mostly erased or have tried to erase from my memory. I call those the purgatory Thanksgiving years. The person I was in a relationship with had family outside Mechanicsburg and Allentown.
I loved the Mechanicsburg Thanksgivings because his sister in law and her mom were awesome. They loved holidays and celebrating holidays and it showed. Everything was festive and bright.
The Allentown Thanksgivings were somewhat awful as we were crammed into a skinny townhouse in a development on a public golf course with dark painted walls. The paint made already small rooms seem more close, and the sister who hosted had this trick every time like clockwork to let photos of his ex-wife fall out of a sideboard. Half of the Thanksgiving dishes and turkey were served in aluminum foil pans and the dinner plates were dirt brown Pfaltzgraff. These Thanksgivings were depressing and uncomfortable. The people were all basically unhappy and not particularly nice and you could feel it. You weren’t one of them and they got that feeling across.
After those years, and sprinkled occasionally throughout my life there were other kinds of Thanksgivings. These were the holidays spent in restaurants or clubs like The Merion Cricket Club. Those were fun holidays too, but part of the “thing” of Thanksgiving to me is how your whole house smells while cooking Thanksgiving dinner, combined with the smell of a fire in the fireplace or wood stove.
I will note one Thanksgiving decades ago when my mother had invited SO many we couldn’t handle the crowd my parents made reservations at a restaurant in Radnor called the Greenhouse. Now you know I am dating myself to the late 1970s because that was when we did Thanksgiving there. When you did Thanksgiving at The Greenhouse you could order your own turkey for your group if your reservation group was large enough. And it was a really cool place literally in old greenhouses and a converted stable portion dating back to the 1760s which some historians still say once housed George Washington’s horse. Not George, just the horse. Today the location is known as 333 Belrose and is owned by a high school friend.
Now as the years have past and life and time have moved forward, Thanksgiving has changed again. It’s like an ever evolving holiday in our lives. I truthfully love cooking Thanksgiving. It’s also a time for me to play with my vintage linens and dishes and is the one time of year that vintage ceramic turkey sees the light of day as a centerpiece.
Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow, which may mean every day, or once in seven days, at least. ~Edward Sandford Martin
Some Thanksgivings now are just our little family and sometimes expanded with other family and friends. This year it’s a smaller gathering so there will be lots of leftovers!
Right now the turkey gizzards, neck, and vegetables are burbling away on the stove as I make the broth I will use later. The cranberry sauce is made, and so are the sweet potatoes and butternut squash. The potato and squash purée will go into the oven to warm up after the turkey comes out to rest. There will be a pumpkin pecan pie but I am unhappy with the pie crust.
“When you love what you have, you have everything you need. ” ~ Unknown
I am grateful for my life and my family so I love the true celebration of Thanksgiving. A lot of our family and friends are farther flung this year celebrating all over, but celebrating the day wherever they are.
So I hope all of you out there have a terrific Thanksgiving. I will leave you with something to think about. I was thinking about the world we live in today, and specifically the tone of many politicians in this country and rhetoric that is nothing short of anti-immigrant. Think about those first Thanksgivings in this country when the Native Americans served feasts to what were then illegal immigrants from Europe.
“We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.” ~Albert C Barnes