Thanksgiving Day is not just an isolated twenty-four hours of gratitude event, with related and unrelated hand-holding, pie-hole stuffing, and wish-bone splitting stints. Nor is it only the over-eating coma calm before the Black Friday retail storm elbows its way into the holiday season. Thanksgiving Day is a porch-light reminder of daily practice.
Why this day out of the 365 day imperfect Gregorian Calendar? Why late autumn when early winter storms create an antithesis of feelings in holiday travelers? We need to turn back the clocks to tick off the accounts…
Celebrations of the harvest go back to ancient days when the end of summer meant winter hardship. Celtic traditions of bountiful merriment began not in November, but at the Autumnal Equinox (September 21st), or “Harvesthome.” The Celts not only shared the reaping of what they sewed, they prayed to the pagans that it would be enough to get though the dark days until the return of the sun and plantings began anew—until the cycle of life began again.
Historians document the “observation” of early colonists’ first Thanksgiving Day in America back to the summer of 1623. How Thanksgiving Day came to fall on a Thursday follows a corn maize of proclamations by politicians and presidents from George Washington to Abe Lincoln to Colonial Governor Jonathan Belcher. Thanksgiving Day in the states now falls on the last Thursday of November thanks to a congressional declaration in 1941.
Whatever the month, whichever the day, there would be no family and friends’ feast with turkeys, cranberries, potatoes, and favorite fixings (mushroom and chestnut stuffing!) without the American Indians who shared their bountiful skills and gifts from Mother Nature with the Plymouth Rock newcomers. Their traditions of daily gratitude for grains and beasts and bounty is a broken-bread ritual shared by many Christians around the supper table. Yet the American Indian mealtime practice of thanks goes beyond the gift of food, it goes out to all that has lived and died under the sun and the moon.
On a personal note…I write this for A Bountiful Heritage with gratitude to those from the Grand and North Fork Valleys and beyond who have shared their time and their stories for my book. Thank you.