Friday, November 23, 2012

Don't Blame the Pilgrims


Nearly every culture has a ritual for giving thanks for life and blessings. We celebrate thanksgiving in the Fall of the year particularly because of the abundant harvest the Summer months have provided. In the United States, this celebration has taken on a mantel of national enormity but where has this holiday come from?

One Blessing
In most religions, thanksgiving is a spiritual recognition of the blessings bestowed upon the faithful, again usually around the time of the harvest. In ancient times, people made sacrifices of living creatures and this practice is still in evidence today with turkeys, lambs, goats. In religious establishments, there are formal offerings, services of appreciation, shared meals to celebrate the bounty of the earth.
Two Blessings

But Thanksgiving is something else. Most of us in the United States have grown up with the legend of the Pilgrims and their wretched struggles in the first year of their life in North America. As the story goes, after over half their number starved to death, they were helped to survive through the kindness and generosity of the established inhabitants, whose own journey to this continent was taken thousands of years before.
And a fourth!

This story may be true in its essence but it isn’t the origin of Thanksgiving as we know and celebrate it today. (Let’s assume we’re not talking about the folks who’ve formed tent-communities outside mega-stores in lieu of having a meal with their families.) The Pilgrims were most probably celebrating the religious thanksgiving, toward the middle of October with a religious service and a long sermon, rather than the more pagan celebration of life and all the bacchanalia surrounding a day of feasting, football and family feuds.

Thanksgiving began its journey to becoming National Holiday only in the 1860s, during the American Civil War. The author, Sarah Josepha Hale, promoted the idea of a national day of thanksgiving to politicians for over forty years. At the time, a day of thanksgiving varied from state to state. A few months after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, in part as an attempt to unify the northern and southern states, Lincoln declared a national day of thanksgiving for the last Thursday of November in that year.

For seventy five years, subsequent Presidents kept the tradition by declaring a national day from year to year but it wasn’t until December 26, 1941 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law that Thanksgiving became fixed on the fourth Thursday of November by federal legislation. For nearly 400 years, people living on this continent have celebrated their good fortune and the blessings bestowed upon them through the observance, religious and secular, of a day of feasting.

This is one of my favorite holidays and it seemed only natural to include it as a pivotal point in my Avalon Romance, Wait a Lonely LifetimeI sincerely hope your day of thanksgiving was exactly that and may we continue to celebrate in the way that most fittingly shows our gratitude for our many blessings. 

3 comments:

Sandy Cody said...

What a wonderful, informative post! Thanks, Leigh. Your blessings are adorable.

Gina/Katherine said...

Yet again, it's a woman behind the scenes hoping to mend a war-torn country that creates a holiday (Mother's Day is a similar scenario). I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, filled with the warmth of those they love!

Fran McNabb said...

Great post. I enjoyed it and am extending a late Happy Thanksgiving wish to you.