Thanksgiving past, present and future
Throughout the ages most cultures have had a feast to celebrate a seasonal harvest by sharing its bounty in a special meal enjoyed by its people. At these feasts the community celebrates the success of its hard work, give thanks to the earth for its abundance, and thanks to their Creator. It is a common theme in variety of cultures. In America, Thanksgiving is that special feast. But what is different about Thanksgiving from harvest feasts in many other local communities is that America is primarily a nation of immigrants drawn together from all over the world. We have many stories to tell of how we arrived here and a wide variety of things for which to be thankful. Although we may have be grateful throughout the year, this is our official day to acknowledge our thanks.
Traditionally, we enjoy a meal with family and friends, but may also invite neighbors in the area to join us on Thanksgiving Day. Often we each prepare part of the feast or we take turns hosting and preparing it. At the dinner table before the meal, we give thanks to God for our abundance. During the meal, we may also choose to tell stories of how we got to America and where our relatives came from and why.
In sharing our stories, we get to know each other. We often acknowledge with gratitude the hardships and sacrifices of our first immigrant relatives and give thanks to each subsequent generation, especially our grandparents and parents who sacrificed to get us where we are today. We often recall their journeys in life. And here in New England, we may pay homage to some of America’s first immigrants, the Pilgrims (mostly Puritans and Separatists). In leaving England in search of religious freedom, they exhibited attributes of faith, vision and perseverance through many hardships. They inspire us with their acts of leadership, labor and love of liberty.
First Thanksgiving – where the tradition began
Use your imagination to travel back in time almost 400 hundred years ago to the first Thanksgiving. The year is 1621. The feast is in celebration of the Pilgrim’s first harvest at their primitive plantation colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving was celebrated in late November at an outdoor festival lasting three days. The festival included hunting, games, and feasting. It was celebrated with the Wampanoag Indians, peaceful Native Americans whose vital help taught the Pilgrims how to farm the native soil; hunt and fish.
Without the help of the Wampanoag, it is doubtful the Pilgrims would have made it. Life was tough in the new world. The Pilgrims lost almost half of their people during the Atlantic voyage and that first harsh New England winter.
All the Pilgrims at that first Thanksgiving came over on one ship, the Mayflower. Another ship set sail from England with the Mayflower. But that ship, the Speedwell, leaked so badly both ships had to turn back. Once back in England, passengers were taken off the Speedwell and loaded onto the Mayflower. There were 102 Pilgrims, plus the ship’s crew (25-30 men), and enough tools, provisions and livestock to start a colony in America. This caused very cramped quarters on the Mayflower. The 4-masted wooden ship was only 100 ft. long x 25 ft. wide. Worse than the conditions on the ship, were the stormy seas. In turning back with the Speedwell, the Mayflower lost precious time and missed its scheduled departure date. The ship was to leave in August to take advantage of fair weather at sea. But it departed from England on Sept. 16, 1620, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in some of the worst weather to be had. The perilous transatlantic journey with the primitive navigational tools of 1620 took about two months (66 days) putting the wooden ship into precarious fall weather with wild shifting winds and large ocean swells.
The Mayflower was actually bound for Virginia, but fierce winds and seas pushed it up and across into Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims landed in November and scouted out a few locations in the area. When they finally found land they felt could support a good plantation colony, they fell on their knees on the ground and thanked God. Then with the vital help of peaceful Native American Indians living there from the Wampanoag tribe, the Pilgrims learned how to farm the land. The first Thanksgiving feast was celebrated by the 56 surviving Pilgrims, a few surviving crew members and Wampanoag Indians together. The food at the feast included corn soup, succotash, squash, venison, berries and more. The Indians went out and shot five additional deer for the feast.
Thanksgiving through time
In 1789 President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, Nov. 26 a day of public Thanksgiving. From 1846-1863, An influential New Hampshire editor, Sara Josepha Hale, petitioned five Presidents and Congress to create a national holiday for Thanksgiving.
In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November to be regularly commemorated as Thanksgiving Day.
In 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a speech at the end of America’s Great Depression and during the time when much of Europe was under Nazi occupation. He outlined goals for the world known as the four freedoms. Here is his speech in part:
“We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way– everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want . . . everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear . . . anywhere in the world.” -President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Message to Congress, January 6, 1941
A famous American illustrator, Norman Rockwell, was so moved by the speech, he went on to illustrate the four freedoms. His illustration for “Freedom from want”, an idealistic scene of an intergenerational Thanksgiving, became the iconic image most Americans associated with Thanksgiving during the second half of the 20th century.
Thanksgiving at the Three Chimneys Inn in Durham, NH 2014
Today, we are fortunate to be at this occasion with newly founded friends and family in a picture-perfect colonial inn dating back to 1649. Think of it, this inn’s oldest original building materials date back to just 28 years after the first Thanksgiving. That is pretty amazing. Its picturesque wood interior can better help us to imagine what life must have been like in 17th century America and be thankful that we are here today celebrating together. The Three Chimney’s Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the oldest homes in the state. This building has served as a living record of over three centuries of cultural and commercial development.
Thanksgiving 2034 across many parts of the world
In the next 20 years the young people here today, students at UNH, will have graduated and gone on to their careers. Many of the students will be married with children and living in various parts of the globe. Come November in future years, when celebrating Thanksgiving wherever you are, think back and remember the warmth and welcoming feeling of this Thanksgiving day at the Three Chimneys Inn, then pick up the phone (or email) a student in your area who is studying from Iran or another part of the world and invite him or her to join you for Thanksgiving.