“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”
So begins President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of 1863, which established Thanksgiving as a national American holiday. That was right in the middle of the Civil War, but Lincoln still seemed to see the bright side.
Of course, popular belief would have it that Thanksgiving is a tradition dating to the first English colony and the Pilgrim Fathers, but there was no practice at that time of an annual feast or holiday. The religious Harvest services which they’d brought across the Atlantic were occasionally known as Thanksgiving, but weren’t associated with the big turkey meals, family gatherings, and watching the football which are the theme today.
Or, at least, not always. In 1621, the settlers and their native Wampanoag neighbours did celebrate the plenty of the wild harvest with a joint feast. The English had gone out and shot a number of turkeys and waterfowl, while the Americans brought fresh deer. The traditional Thanksgiving meal still incorporates turkey, (although not usually venison), along with specifically American foods, such as pumpkin and squash. Oh, and potatoes. (Las patatas son de América.)
Thanksgiving fell during the time I was doing my first flying training in rural Georgia, and the mother of one of the instructors, hearing that there were three foreign students, far from their families, invited us to their Thanksgiving meal. That was a poor, Southern family, opening their home to strangers, purely out of grace and kindness. I found it a very touching gesture, and a strong reminder of the basic goodness of American folk. I also discovered that I will never understand football.
I may not be having turkey this year, having removed meat almost entirely from my diet. Perhaps I could buy one of those frozen, stuffed things from Iceland — there’s not likely to be much meat in it. Or perhaps I might have an other traditional American food: pizza. (It’s a vegetable.)