Just the word elicits memories. For me, it’s years of gathering with the family and inviting new friends into the fold; waking up to the scent of roasting turkey – an arguable pleasure at 6am; long-standing traditions of Sara Lee Coffee Cake with my parents and siblings; and sitting down at a table laden with, and surrounded by, the evidence of the many blessings in my life.
Being a historical writer, you know I won’t pass up the opportunity to do a little research on the holiday in the United States. Thanksgiving, as we know it, is an amalgamation of many traditions, going far back in European history, when farmers celebrated the end of the harvest and gave thanks for the success of another growing season.
Do you know when (and where) the earliest Thanksgiving was celebrated in the United States – back before we were states, or united? No, not Plymouth (or Plimoth), Massachusetts, as we were taught in grade school. The earliest claim to a celebration of Thanksgiving was by the Spanish around El Paso, Texas. According to several sources, on April 30, 1598, Spanish expedition leader, Juan de Oñate, declared a day of rest for his party. They held a Catholic mass of thanksgiving for their safety and success in finding abundant food, water and grazing land.
Our Thanksgiving didn’t start out as a feast day. It began as a religious celebration. On December 4, 1619, English settlers gathered on the James River in Virginia to commemorate the day they landed on this continent. Captain John Woodleif declared “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
The “Thanksgiving” we all know, with the Pilgrims and Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe, took place in 1621. It was a three-day festival giving thanks for an abundant harvest.
Thanksgiving didn’t become a regular, scheduled celebration until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln invited Americans to “observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Every subsequent U.S. President repeated the invitation, until in 1939, hoping to lengthen the shopping season and draw the United States out of the great depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt permanently set the date of Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November.
Celebration and thanksgiving. Those are the themes of the day we in the United States celebrate on November 22, 2007. So gather your loved ones close, invite some new friends to join in the feasting, and give thanks for all you have. And remember to take a little time for yourself and curl up with a good book!
Tracy Garrett’s debut novel, TOUCH OF TEXAS, is available now from Zebra Historical Romance.
Visit Tracy at Fresh Fiction or http://www.tracygarrett.com/.