What Thanksgiving Means to Me

By Lorie Rosenberg

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s not about presents or other expectations. For me it’s about eating, relaxing, and being with friends and family…about being grateful for all the many blessings I have!

What has become disappointing to me over the past several years is that most of the holidays we currently celebrate have become commercialized and have lost their true meaning. Christmas is more about Santa and the presents he brings; Easter is about the Easter Bunny and lots of candy for the children, and even Thanksgiving is about Black Friday, that special day of sales and endless shopping.

When I was growing up, at least the Christmas season began after Thanksgiving. Now it starts after Halloween with all the Christmas decorations and all sorts of Christmas items in the stores. In fact, there’s a local radio station that has been playing Christmas music non-stop for the past several weeks.

So I decided to do a little research and see how our Thanksgiving holiday originated and how it has evolved over the years. While festivals of thanksgiving after bountiful harvests have been a tradition in many countries in Europe for centuries, our first celebrated Thanksgiving was attributed to the Pilgrims who left Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620 to come to the New World, in search of civil and religious liberty.

In the first winter after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, nearly half of them died due to freezing and starvation. During the next summer the native Indians helped them learn how to hunt, fish, and farm and the following summer they celebrated a bountiful harvest. The grateful Pilgrims declared a three-day feast, starting on December 13, 1621, to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends.

While there were Thanksgiving services held in Virginia as early as 1607, this was America’s first “official” Thanksgiving Festival. After that official Thanksgiving in 1621, observances of Thanksgiving were dictated at the State level so it was celebrated at various times in different states.

Sarah Josepha Hale, America’s first female magazine editor and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” can be given much of the credit for establishing an annual national Thanksgiving Day. For thirty years, she wrote letters to every president promoting the idea of a national day of Thanksgiving. In 1863, to help unify the North and the South after the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln decided to set aside the last Thursday of November as a national Day of Thanksgiving.

Over the next seventy-five years, each President followed Lincoln’s precedent, annually declaring the last Thursday in November as a national Thanksgiving Day. In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to add days to the Christmas shopping season and to help boost a devastating economy. Then, in 1941, Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday.

While it’s interesting how Thanksgiving originated, it’s not as important as the wonderful traditions that American families have created and that they celebrate each year in homes all across the country.

It’s about the Macy’s parade, about turkey and stuffing and other ethnic specialties. I have an Italian friend who makes home-made raviolis and a Polish friend who makes a special macaroni salad. As they described how they made them, I saw how these dishes have become an important part of the traditions in their family.

For others it’s about pumpkin and apple pies and about football…and more football. Lastly and more importantly it’s about spending special moments with cherished friends and family in a warm and relaxing environment. It’s a day I look forward to every year and I hope you do too.

Ron and I wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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