The Star-News


Thanks all around

Sat, Nov 20 2010 12:00 PM Posted By: Richard Pena

In a few short days the entire nation will be observing and celebrating the oldest American holiday on our calendar.

Legend and historians tell us that this particular holiday, Thanksgiving, had its genesis on the shores of Plymouth at about 1620.

On examining the literature, however, we find that those early settlers had little for which to be thankful. Outside of their lives and each other there was very little else. We thus wonder about the early start of Thanksgiving.

In retrospect we would have to say that there was poor planning in this first expedition - this initial endeavor to explore the so-called new land. They set sail from England in the month of September, no doubt knowing that this was not going to be a pleasure cruise. The ship that was about as seaworthy as a child's toy.

They were going to be at sea for two months and they were going to make landfall in November, probably the cruelest month of the year. Once ashore they were going to establish a settlement, plant crops, build structures and greet other settlers with open arms.

But in spite of the hardships, they persevered. The following spring they planted their crops and in the fall harvested a reasonable amount - enough, in fact, to invite the local neighbors, an Indian tribe, to join them in a sort of a feast. The governor of the new land, William Bradford, remembered having celebrations in his home land at harvest time and thought that it would be a good idea to replicate this custom in the new land. He, therefore, sent messengers to Massasoit, the great chief of the tribe, inviting him and his people to the celebration. The guests, not to be outdone, brought items of food that had been prepared in their own village. The literature does not mention it but this was probably the first potluck on record.

It would be nice if we could report that this holiday was observed every November since then.

The harsh winters, the poor health of the settlers and the not-too-friendly neighbors left little for which to be thankful. Many years would pass before the day would once more arise and here is the good part.

I say this is the good part because here we see the power of the press. The year was 1863 and the nation was in the midst of the Civil War. Things were not going too well for the nation. The war was going badly for the country and the president, Abraham Lincoln, was having trouble with his generals.

All in all, morale was pretty low. And here is where the press, in the presence of one Sara Josepha Hale, comes in. Miss Hale was the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, a popular magazine of the time. She started a letter writing campaign, entreating the president to set aside a day of Thanksgiving. Lincoln, the wise man that he was, probably saw merit in this and saw little harm in it. He, therefore, proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November as a day of thanks.

Along about this time it is my guess that most of the local elementary school classes in our area are preparing for their own version of Thanksgiving. The youngsters are transforming ordinary construction paper into pilgrim hats and bonnets and memorizing lines for short plays or pageants. This is, undoubtedly, culminated with the customary punch and cookies, the classroom's equivalent of the Thanksgiving feast. And this is the way it should be.

Some years ago, in this space, I proclaimed Thanksgiving not as a single holiday, but as a season, a period of time when we should all take stock of the situation and endeavor to find those good things that are about us.

We have already seen some of the preparations that various units are making that are going to be for the benefit of others - for those folks who, perhaps because of the times in which we live, have suffered setbacks.

Who knows? Maybe with a little bit of positive thoughts of our own, plus a bit of comfort giving to those less fortunate the situation will brighten up for all. Hey, it worked for Lincoln. Why not us?


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