Friday, November 26, 2010

Origin of Thanksgiving

As I write this piece, Thanksgiving in 2010 occurred yesterday. I stayed home this year and cleaned the bathroom, another annual event at my place.

On December 4, 1619, the first Thanksgiving celebration was held in America at the Berkeley Plantation in Virginia. Thirty-eight English settlers attended the event. It was part of their original charter to set aside one day every year to observe a day of thanksgiving for their annual harvest. Due to hardships and other factors, the annual festivities lasted only one year.

On December 11, 1620, one hundred and two Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. The first winter was brutal. Nearly half died from starvation and illness. The following summer, assisted by friendly Indians, the survivors reaped a bountiful harvest. To show their appreciation, Governor William Bradford invited nearly 100 Indians to join the Pilgrims in a feast of thanksgiving, starting on December 13, 1621, and lasting for three days.

Two years later, the Pilgrims were hit with a draught. One day they gathered to pray for rain. The next morning it started to rain and didn’t stop for several days. With the crops saved, Governor Bradford, being the party animal he was, declared another day of thanksgiving. Once again the Indians were invited.

As other settlers arrived to the colonies, they too held their own thanksgiving celebrations, each independent of the other.

In 1668, the government decided to get involved, as governments tend to do, declaring November 25 to be Thanksgiving Day. This proclamation lasted only five years.

The first national celebration of Thanksgiving occurred in 1777. It was a one-time event to celebrate the American victory over the British at Saratoga. Americans love to celebrate wars, which may be why they participate in so many of them.

In 1789, President George Washington created a proclamation declaring Thanksgiving a national event, to be held on the first Thursday of November. Apparently, the first President was a party animal too.

John Adams, the second President, moved Thanksgiving from Thursday to the previous Wednesday. Politicians are often meddlesome nitwits who believe that making changes, whether they make sense or not, are a sign of leadership. Later in his tenure, Adams moved it back to Thursday.

Not much of a party animal, the Third President, Thomas Jefferson, was opposed to Thanksgiving and cancelled the national festivities.

Finally, in July of 1863, shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving. Over the next 75 years, every President followed Lincoln’s precedent, annually declaring a national Thanksgiving Day.

Then in 1941, when Congress had a majority of party animals on hand, Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday of November as a national holiday called Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving is a tradition in my family. Some of last year’s activities included:

1) Built a pyramid of empty beer cans at halftime of football game.
2) Performed the Heimlich maneuver on my nephew to remove a walnut.
3) Moved a couch over the spot where the cat threw up to avoid a messy cleanup.
4) Debated Uncle Earl about the impact of global warming on Japanese baseball.
5) Wrestled with my brother to see who got the wishbone.
6) After dinner we set up the Christmas tree in anticipation of the next holiday in line.
7) Most of us took a short nap, except for Uncle Earl who kept debating by himself.
8) Wrestled with my brother to see who got stuck driving crazy Aunt Edna to the airport.
9) Scanned the Internet, looking for a list of symptoms of salmonella.

Thanksgiving is an occasion to thank Mother Earth for blessing you with a bountiful harvest and to thank Father Time for allowing you to enjoy life for another year. And to remind yourself to start your annual diet, right after the New Year rolls in.

Life is a precious experience. Be thankful for all the joy and sorrow it brings -- for without sorrow, there would be no joy.

Quote for the Day -- "To give thanks in solitude is enough. Thanksgiving has wings and goes where it must go. Your prayer knows much more about it than you do." Victor Hugo

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where road-kill makes a fine holiday feast. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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