Giving thanks

There’s nothing better than the warmth of a fire, especially from a hearth that offers welcome relief from the outside chill and wind so common this time of year. After trudging up and down streets in an ocean-side village of 1627, a fire seemed like a wonderful and warm embrace. Quickly facing the nippy weather again wouldn’t be a choice if it weren’t for the smoke-laden air. A move toward the open door or uncovered window opening was the only way to get another kind of relief – fresh air to breathe. There was little comfort in the house with the dirt floor and no apparent place to restfully sit.

Yet, my trip to Plimouth Plantation shortly before Thanksgiving a few years ago was one of the best trips ever. Plimouth Plantation is the site of the “first” Thanksgiving.

The people we refer to as “Pilgrims” experienced a lifestyle of much physical hardship. Coming to North America in November of 1620, they named their new settlement Plymouth, and Plimoth Plantation is where visitors can tour this outdoor museum to gain a better perspective of what life was like for them a few years after landing.

Some Americans know the story of how over half of them died the first winter of 1621 due to exposure and malnutrition. At one point during this time there were only seven people well enough to take care of the sick. To make matters worse, a fire destroyed the thatched roof on their first structure, which also housed some of the sick. Spring came, village streets were laid out and crops were planted. With help from the natives Squanto and Samoset, a bountiful harvest resulted A three-day celebration that fall included Chief Massasoit and 90 braves of the Wampanoag people. Today, we think of this as the first Thanksgiving holiday.

Autumn celebrations of thanks for blessings continued in ensuing years according to the tradition of harvest festivals in England, but Thanksgiving as we know it took some time to evolve.

George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving and prayer in 1789. However, it was not an annual event until Abraham Lincoln issued the “Thanksgiving Proclamation” in 1863 declaring the last Thursday in November to be a day of thanksgiving and praise. After that, the holiday blossomed into what we now think of with turkey, stuffing, pumpkin and apple pies, and for many, the famous sweet potato casserole with mini-marshmallows on top.

Over time, Thanksgiving began to include other traditions such as football games and crazy “Black Friday.” Fun activities, yes, but extravagances that tire many people and lead us to forgetting the true meaning and origins of the holiday.

A nostalgic article from the EVENING OBSERVER on November 11, 1897, reminded readers that a “Thanksgiving on the Farm” of the simplest kind is a day filled with real joys, and guests have only pleasant memories to carry home in the evening. The article reminded the hostess that overdoing the holiday just makes everyone grumpy.

“Trying to present the home in immaculate order with the table groaning under the weight of elegancies, we as housekeepers must strain nerves and temper until unendurable to self and all about us. Let us forego entertaining, for in every sense of the word is such a Thanksgiving a delusion, decidedly,” the author wrote.

The same OBSERVER article also stated, “If we will but stop to remember, in the rudest of hut farm homes that Thanksgiving day originated, in the dense and mighty woods of New England. It were well for us all did we stop and think of this wonderful day in history of people long ago, who through the privations they bore for a just and grand cause, made it possible for you and I to live here as we do, in peace and comfort, and in a manner that should tend to make us more grateful and thankful than we usually are for the blessings that are ours. To America belongs Thanksgiving day.”

Remembering to recognize blessings and the sacrifices of those before us is what the holiday is about. An 1880 rediscovered book on the bookshelf called “Old Times in the Colonies” poignantly points out that the Pilgrims, known as Separatists for separating themselves from the church of England, were greatly persecuted. Industrious and honest, they organized themselves into a church where all were equal. They elected deacons to be their servants. It was a church in which the rights of every person was respected. Church members believed they had authority from the divine to rule themselves. Ruling themselves – not a man-made king or self-serving leader.

The book cautions that this is not to be forgotten. “When men rule themselves there will be the largest freedom; they will respect the rights of their fellow-men, for only by so doing can they have their own rights.”

It is in these Pilgrim roots that the stage was set for “the people alone have the right to rule” and other inherent rights that would be protected by our future Constitution.

People of great faith, the Pilgrims were also hard-working.

The 133-year-old book states, “There were no idlers in the party. All hands knew how to work, and labor was a duty which they owed one another and to God.” Prosperity and blessings come from this work for self and others.

The 1897 OBSERVER article reiterated this in relation to Thanksgiving. There may be feasting and “pleasantries,” but don’t forget to give thanks for abundance, health, family, and even the adversities and disappointments. Remember the small favors.

“Turn over a new leaf this season and find a reason for genuine thanksgiving in the oncoming prosperity that only those who are willfully blind are oblivious of.”

Make it a great Thanksgiving week. Count your blessings one by one.