Thanksgiving a remarkable observance

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Thanksgiving. What a wonderful, wonderful holiday it is. It's purpose is so pure and to the point ... giving thanks ... being grateful for all which is given to us, and pausing to pray for a better life for those less fortunate.

It is such a distinctly American celebration. It started Dec. 4, 1619, when 38 settlers from England gathered at the Berkeley Plantation. The location was on the banks of the James River in what is now Virginia.

That was the forerunner of the first Thanksgiving in New England, which was celebrated in Plymouth in 1621, less than a year after the Plymouth colonists had settled in America.

We know the story well and it lives vividly in our minds through grade school programs. The World Book gives this account:

"The first dreadful winter in Massachusetts had killed about half the members of the colony. But new hope arose in the summer of 1621. The settlers expected a good corn harvest, despite poor crops of peas, wheat and barley. Thus in early autumn, governor William Bradford arranged a harvest festival to give thanks to God for the progress the colony had made.

"The festival lasted three days. The men of Plymouth had shot ducks, geese and turkeys. The menu also included clams, eel and other fish, wild plums and leeks, corn bread and watercress. The women of the settlement supervised cooking over outdoor fires. About 90 Indians also attended the festival. They brought five deer to add to the feast.

"Everyone ate outdoors at large tables and enjoyed games and military review."

Amazing, isn't it, that 385 years later the central focus of Thanksgiving is the same as during the founding days of America. Despite the many difficulties and sadness that we endure, we are thankful for the blessings we share, most especially faith, family and hope for the future.

We should not sell ourselves short, either. While the foundation for Thanksgiving was laid in the early days of America, the holiday has been kept alive -- and added to -- by the generations which have followed.

There are now so many distinctly American family traditions: turkey dinner with all the trimmings, family reunions, football watching, hunting outings and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade to name a few.

Yet, the thing that matters, now as when the holiday began, is the day's exceptional and enduring purpose: thanksgiving. As a nation and as individuals, we are blessed and we are thankful.

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