The first Thanksgiving was celebrated between the Pilgrims and the Indians in 1621. That first feast was a three day affair. Life for the early settlers was difficult. The fall harvest was time for celebration. It was also a time of prayer, thanking God for a good crop. The Pilgrims and the Indians created a huge feast including a wide variety of animals and fowl, as well as fruits and vegetables from the fall harvest. This early celebration was the start of today’s holiday elebration.
After the first Thanksgiving, the observance was sporadic and almost forgotten until the early 1800’s. It was usually celebrated in late September or October. In 1941, Congress made it a national holiday and set the date as the fourth Thursday in November.
I wanted to share some of the family traditions that started as I was growing up, and those that I’ve tried to create for my children.
First and most important, All Are Welcome! You don’t have to be a blood-relative to enjoy our festivities. Many people who attended couldn’t go to be with their families for a variety of reasons. For 40 years, my grandfather’s horse trainer and his wife attended and were welcomed guests.
The day before all the kids (and dogs) and adults who could hustle, would play The Turkey Bowl. A highly unregulated, touch-football game that had a very clear lack of rules, and never seemed to have ‘a winner’, which is just the way we liked it.
This pre-Thanksgiving day began the turkey preparation. The bread was cubed and layer out to dry, the turkeys were cleaned and process began. One rule though; don’t enter the kitchen zone unless you planned to stay and learn. Students were welcomed, but transients were discouraged. I went in one year to soak up the knowledge that my Father displayed, and was exhausted by the end. It was intense.
Typically, I was in charge of decorations. We had a very long room that had three dedicated eight foot folding tables and chairs. We had family dinner in here every Monday night. In the 40s the mindset was that you didn’t have more kids than you could feed, and we were in the restaurant business…so we had a lot! I used my Mothers lovely linens, beautiful silver and decorated with gourds, candles, leaves and whatever theme inspired me that year. I considered it a place of pride to create a dramatic setting that paralleled the amazing flavors that my parents and siblings were creating in the kitchen.
Thanksgiving morning changed when I had my own children. I wanted to start a tradition that was ‘just ours’. So we would get up, make breakfast, spread out blankets and hot chocolate and watch the Macy’s Day Parade. We loved the balloons, the dancing and the excitement of eating on the floor! To this day we do this, though my 19 year old sleeps hrough half of it, but she still attends!
By afternoon we start to get ready and put on all of our finest holiday clothes. This was a special time when we sat in the living room where we typically were not allowed in when I was young. We looked spectacular, and always got special oliday pictures with my Mom (Dad was cooking).
Then the Thanksgiving prayer was read, and the feast was presented. Oh, it was a vision of opulent bounty. My Father made the best turkey, gravy and stuffing on the planet!!! It was the star over any side dish, or dessert which was just peripheral calories.
Afterwards we would clean up and play Scrabble or another board game while laughing into the night. Trying to continue these memories for my children without my parents is a challenge. The traditions have evolved and are different. I don’t have the skill level my Dad did at cooking turkey. All the siblings don’t get together anymore, but we do the best we can.
I wish all the best to all of you on this Thanksgiving holiday. Be safe. Enjoy and I’ll see you back here after the holiday.