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13 Nov
2017

Thanksgiving, The American Holiday

Autumn Bouquet to Celebrate Thanksigving, Bev Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know that Thanksgiving did not become a permanent official national holiday until 1941 when Congress established the fourth Thursday of the month of November as Thanksgiving Day?

Today, Thanksgiving is a most American holiday tradition in which we gather with friends and family to share a sumptuous feast and express our gratitude.   Many of us assume Thanksgiving in North America began with the Pilgrims story of Thanksgiving.  The roots of our Thanksgiving can be traced back to the ancient traditions of celebrating the bounty of the harvest.  I also discovered there were earlier ceremonies by other British colonists and Spanish explorers in North America before the Plymouth celebration of 1621.  Although Thanksgiving in the colonies became a regular event by the middle of the 17th century, the first national Thanksgiving was proclaimed in 1777 by the Continental Congress.  The early Presidents continued to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving but it was not an official holiday.  In fact, by the middle of the 19th century Thanksgiving was limited to individual state observances and had evolved from the religious and civil day of commemoration and giving thanks to a family holiday of feasting.  President Lincoln was convinced to declare a national holiday in 1863 in an effort to unite the war-torn country.  Lincoln’s successors proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day each year until it became a permanent official holiday in 1941.

In researching my family history and writing the story of “Sarah’s Secret”, I often found myself thinking about life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries compared to my life today.  Since I did not inherit any family traditions of Thanksgiving, my curiosity led me to explore some of the history of one of this favorite of American holiday which combines the ancient traditions of harvest festivals and the religious observances of the Puritans grateful and giving thanks for their survival after a year of sickness and scarcity.

Without family stories or traditions, I used my imagination about how my grandparents might have celebrated Thanksgiving Day.  Since it was not a firm national holiday and observed differently by state, my grandparents might not have even celebrated Thanksgiving as struggling homesteaders.  Certainly, after my grandfather died leaving my grandmother in dire and impoverished circumstances, her ability to provide an extravagant feast would have been very limited.  Yet, the tradition of acknowledging God’s blessings, giving thanks and expressing gratitude would have been important to my grandmother, who had a strong Christian faith.  I imagine that when the President of the United States did declare a day of Thanksgiving, which may or may not have been in November, that she probably commemorated the day.  She may have cooked something special, maybe a wild game or fowl caught by my grandfather or her oldest son.  I am convinced that she would ensure that she and her family offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings in their lives.  Since her birthday was November 24th and often fell on Thanksgiving, I also imagine that she probably ignored or discounted any celebration of her November birthday as too frivolous and extravagant.

Greetings! And Happy Thanksgiving, from Bev Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful not only for my comfortable twenty-first century life, but I am also grateful for the opportunity to write about the strong courageous woman who was my grandmother.  Although her birthday this year falls on the day after Thanksgiving, I will honor her especially for her inspiration.  I have so much respect for this proud woman who was left a widow and raised her five children while she struggled with illness and poverty.

Do you have inherited family traditions on Thanksgiving?  What do you imagine your grandparents or great grandparents did to celebrate a day of family feasting or to express gratitude and give thanks in their faith on Thanksgiving Day?

(Previous versions of this article have been published in “The Writing Life” in 2015 and 2016.)

 

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