In the fall of 1621, four settlers from Plymouth Colony were sent to hunt and gather food for a harvest celebration. When members of the Wampanoag tribe heard gunshots, they suspected the English settlers might be preparing for war and alerted their chief Massasoit. Massasoit, when he discovered that the colonists were simply hunting, sent his own men to hunt deer to contribute to the feast. Massasoit and approximately ninety of his men joined the harvest feast, which consisted of deer, shellfish, corn, and roasted meat. The next unofficial Thanksgiving feast did not take place until 1623, and the holiday itself did not become official until October 3, 1863 through a proclamation by President Lincoln.
Lincoln began that proclamation by writing that, “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.” The celebrations of Thanksgiving for the remainder of much of the nineteenth century emphasized abundance, blessings, good health, and the simple joys of a contented life. When the Great War broke America’s peace, Thanksgiving was redefined but not reduced as a result of rationing. The limitedness of sugar made fruit dishes, desserts, cereals, cakes, candies, pies, and cranberry sauces seem decadent. Americans were encouraged to “buy local, eat local” in order to support their country’s war efforts.
Once again returned to peace, President Coolidge noted in his 1925 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation that, “The season approaches when, in accordance with a long established and respected custom, a day is set apart to give thanks to Almighty God for the manifold blessings which His gracious and benevolent providence has bestowed upon us as a nation and as individuals. We have been brought with safety and honor through another year, and, through the generosity of nature, He has blessed us with resources whose potentiality in wealth is almost incalculable; we are at peace at home and abroad; the public health is good; we have been undisturbed by pestilences or great catastrophes; our harvests and our industries have been rich in productivity; our commerce spreads over the whole world, and Labor has been well rewarded for its remunerative service. As we have grown and prospered in material things, so also should we progress in moral and spiritual things. We are a God-fearing people who should set ourselves against evil and strive for righteousness in living, and observing the Golden Rule we should from our abundance help and serve those less fortunately placed. We should bow in gratitude to God for His many favors.” Once again amidst such plenty, the President suggested that in acknowledgement of this, we might turn to helping those less fortunate and turn our gratitude inward.
In 1943, we were again mired in world-wide war, but we had not lost the sense that Thanksgiving is a time for more than gastronomic excess, but also for inward reflection and outward generosity. President Roosevelt extolled: “May we on Thanksgiving Day and on every day express our gratitude and zealously devote ourselves to our duties as individuals and as a nation. May each of us dedicate his utmost efforts to speeding the victory which will bring new opportunities for peace and brotherhood among men.” The same sentiment and similar circumstances would recur again in 1951 when many soldiers took time away from machine gun posts to eat a Thanksgiving dinner in the frozen mountains of Korea. A few days later, the Chinese counterattacked on behalf of their North Korean ally and pushed against a division of Marines led by the famous Chesty Puller who remarked, “We are not retreating – we are advancing in a different direction.”
In 1965, our country would be mired in another conflict. During the Thanksgiving Day break from hostilities in Vietnam, General W.C. Westmoreland, in his message to the soldiers, noted: “This Thanksgiving Day we find ourselves in a foreign land assisting in the defense of the rights of free men everywhere. On this day we should offer our grateful thanks for the abundant life which we and our loved ones have been provided. May we each pray for His continued blessings and guidance upon our endeavors to assist the Vietnamese people in their struggle to attain an everlasting peace within a free society.” Our troops have since spent the holiday in Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other places around the globe in hopes that they fight that they carry to the enemy is the one that need not be fought at home. Through their correspondence, we know that they worry for their families, miss out on Cub Scout meetings, football games, the food, and the time with friends and family.
Many of us have doubtlessly known some measure of heartache this past year, but from harvest feasts to the cornucopia of foods that form our modern spread, Thanksgiving Day remains a time to reflect on our appreciation for all that we could not have known to ask for and all that we might otherwise take for granted. It is a day to enjoy the cool weather, to play flag football, to delight in the warm aromas wafting from the kitchen, to wax nostalgic at the smell of burnt gunpowder on the cold, morning air, and feel lightened by the laughter of children. It is a day to guiltlessly ‘make room” for pie and to open our hearts and enjoy one another’s company. We wish all of our Ridgeview families a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving, and for those who were able to join us this past Sunday in Nunn, we hope that we have helped in a small way to form a few, happy memories.