Thanksgiving is upon us once again – but hang on, you say, as a Brit, I’m hardly qualified to wax lyrical on the subject! Too true, but I’m going to give it a go anyway, in honour of very dear stateside friends. So, please just think of it as a Brit’s point of view!
Where did Thanksgiving begin? We need to go way back in time – to the 1600s when the pilgrim fathers bravely embarked on what was a long, risky and for the most part, unpleasant voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, to reach what they called “the new world”. What motivated them to risk their lives by making such a perilous journey to a largely unknown land?
The answer was – religion – or more accurately, religious freedom. The pilgrim fathers were unable to openly practice their chosen religion (a branch of Puritanism) back in their homeland and so sought pastures new, which they hoped would afford them the ability to follow their beliefs without persecution.
So, in 1620, 102 brave souls set sail from Plymouth, UK – on that famous ship, the Mayflower and headed off for a new life.
When you come to think of it, it’s not such a very different concept to what folks do today – many choose emigration to begin new lives in other countries for a variety of reasons – mainly because they feel that they can have a better quality of life in their new chosen home – and it was much the same for our intrepid travellers.
Unfortunately, when they arrived, they were ill prepared for what they found. To begin with, the weather was much different and more extreme than they had ever experienced before. They had brought with them crops that they had always grown back home, only to find that these were to fail dismally in their new territory.
They were strangers in a strange land and the start of their new adventure wasn’t bright and happy as they had hoped, but cold, hard and very tough – indeed many of them perished in their attempts to settle, with only about half surviving the first winter.
Their rescue, came in the form of tribes of kind Native Americans, who introduced them to corn as a staple crop; showed them how to fish; taught them which plants were edible and which were poisonous and even how to extract sap from maple trees (mmm maple syrup!) If it wasn’t for the help of these indigenous peoples, it is very likely the pilgrim fathers would not have survived.
Therefore, a year later in 1621, it was decided to hold a celebration of their having managed to survive for a year – the first Thanksgiving. The pilgrims invited the Native Americans and there were three days of feasting declared.
Further along, Thanksgiving also came to symbolise a celebration of the US winning the war of independence and gaining its freedom to become a truly independent nation; but it wasn’t until 1817 that Thanksgiving was declared an official holiday, with New York state being the very first place to do so.
So where does the traditional turkey originate? Well, it’s highly likely that the ‘fowl’ that was eaten in the first Thanksgiving feasts were indeed wild turkeys, which were hunted by the pilgrims. In the 1800s the idea was embraced and turkey became a main component of the Thanksgiving dinner.
If you’re wondering about other dishes, it’s suggested that European settlers brought the potato with them (the South Americans having exported it already to Europe). Cranberries are a native American berry and squashes, such as pumpkins had been previously introduced from Mexico, as had corn. It would seem that these foodstuffs were available to the pilgrims and down the generations, have now become a great tradition as part of the Thanksgiving dinner.
Sadly, we don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK and we can only gaze with envy, across the pond, to wonder at this much revered American celebration.
Although we may not celebrate Thanksgiving, we can still contemplate the ethos of the holiday. Obviously, it’s all about giving thanks – a simple concept. When I think about it, just how often do I stop and take a moment to count my blessings? How often am I grateful for what brings me happiness and hope in my life? The answer is, not nearly often enough – and while I’m at it, I should take a moment to remember all those who aren’t as fortunate as me – again not something I do as much as I should.
Yes, now I come to think about it, how often do we actually say thanks? Personally, I know it’s easy to complain, moan or criticise but somehow much harder to just say thank you to someone – how odd is that?! Sometimes, we feel embarrassed just to show our gratitude; but hearing a word or two of appreciation can so easily make someone’s day – I know it brings a spring to my step and happiness can be contagious, so it’s definitely worth the effort!
Yep, Stateside or not, being thankful is definitely something we can all do! Happy Thanksgiving!