Turkey, ‘taters and tradition

Published 10:34 am Tuesday, November 22, 2011

For the majority of blue-collar Americans, Thanksgiving Day is a late-week break from the daily grind of work.

Many will use the day to catch-up on a long list of household chores – for men that means raking leaves and tidying up the yard just in time to decorate it for the Christmas season.

For others (like me, I have no leaves to rake because I have no trees in my yard), it’s a lazy day – one where it’s okay to sleep in late and rise to a day of holiday parades and the traditional afternoon of NFL football games.

In keeping with the tradition of this holiday, chowing down on a large meal is a must. This year, my wife, Deborah, will cook a turkey and whatever Thanksgiving side dishes she feels is appropriate.

We can thank our Pilgrim forefathers for this chance to stuff our bellies with the bountiful, not to mention tasty, morsels of Earth. It was the Pilgrims, settling into the New England area in the early 17th century, who shared a meal with the Native Americans in celebration of a good harvest, thusly establishing America’s version of Thanksgiving Day.

Over the centuries that followed, we still pay honor to our forefathers by dressing-up as Pilgrims for Thanksgiving Day parades. Yards are decorated with hay bales and corn stalks while porches are used to display cornucopias – horn-shaped baskets overflowing with fruits and vegetables in honor of an abundant harvest.

But what is now an American celebration held the fourth Thursday of November traces its roots much further than the Pilgrims breaking bread with Native Americans.

Prior to Europeans braving the seas to settle in North America, western Europeans observed harvest festivals in order to celebrate the successful completion of gathering the crops. In the British Isles, Loaf Mass Day was observed on Aug. 1 to celebrate a good wheat harvest.

In 1623, two years after the English colonists who settled what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, a serious drought turned the annual harvest celebration (one first observed in 1621) into a day of fasting and prayer. Amazingly, while the Pilgrims prayed, rains fell from the heavens – thusly turning the day into one of giving thanks to God and his blessings.

The Continental Congress proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving following an American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 during the Revolutionary War. Twelve years later (1789), President George Washington proclaimed another day of thanksgiving in honor of the ratification of the Constitution.

The state of New York became the first American colony to adopt Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. Other states soon followed, but their celebrations came on different days in November.

By presidential order in 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving in order to boost the morale of the Union troops. Following the Civil War, Congress enacted Lincoln’s idea into a national holiday.

When you sit down for that Thanksgiving meal, remember of how the holiday came to pass and please thank God for allowing you to live in the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. While you’re at it, say a prayer for our brave men and women in uniform. Say thanks to them for allowing us to enjoy Thanksgiving, and every day for that matter, in freedom.


Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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