by Kimberely Johnston
I always love arriving at my parents’ house the night before Thanksgiving – to the smell of pies in the oven for the next day, chilli on the stove and hot corn bread with melted butter waiting to be eaten. We pour out cocktails, talk over each other and somehow end up staying up too late chatting and/or waiting for the last of our five siblings to arrive. At some point I’ll look over to see my parents standing there, leaning against each other, taking in the suddenly re-filled house; content.
On Thanksgiving day, before we partake in the sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows, mashed potatoes, green beans, carrots, lima beans (of which, even my 40+ year old sister is forced to eat a spoonful), honey baked ham, turkey (both baked and fried), stuffing, corn, hot squishy white roles, cranberry sauce and gravy – we stand around in a circle and share three things we are thankful for from the year gone by. Needless to say there is not a dry eye in the house by the end of it. We then say blessing, load up our plates and eat until we can’t move.
If you ask most Americans, they will say that Thanksgiving is their favourite holiday. There are no gifts exchanged and it is a day where families and friends come together to give thanks for all that they have and simply enjoy each others company and LOTS of food. There will likely be the Macy’s Day Parade on TV; an American football game to be played in the front yard (or watched on TV if you’ve had too much turkey); a chat about the presidentially pardoned turkey and a kitchen full of family chatting, cooking and trying to steal bits of turkey off the bird as it comes out of the oven. At our house – we have the annual “turkey trot” where we wrap up and head out for a mile-long walk after dinner to make room for the pumpkin pie, banana chocolate cream pie or (read ‘and’) great grandmother’s mistake cake.
So how did this all begin? At the time of the rule of King James I– some English subjects decided to set sail to new lands in order to freely practice their Christian beliefs. In September 1620, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England destined for what is now New York. Unfortunately they were blown off course and after travelling at an average speed of under 2 mph they arrived at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts on 11 November… just in time for the harsh New England winter to settle in. They lived aboard the Mayflower as they built their homes on land and by the spring of 1621, only 53 of the original 102 passengers had survived the harsh winter. That autumn, after their first successful harvest, the Pilgrims held a three-day festival in order to thank God for His provision. The Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag tribe who had helped them learn to fish, hunt and cultivate the land to join them for the celebrations.
Subsequent days of thanksgiving to God were regularly celebrated but It was not until the first American female magazine editor, (and the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) Sarah Joshepha Hale, petitioned presidents for almost 30 years for one set day for Americans to collectively give thanks, that a national day of Thanksgiving was declared. In 1863 (in the midst of the U.S. Civil War) President Abraham Lincoln, seeing the merit behind her idea, declared the last Thursday in November to be a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”. Then on 26 December 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a resolution establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.
So this Thanksgiving (the 27th of November), if you know an American, make sure to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving and maybe take a moment to think of all the things you are thankful for this year.