Some of our European friends asked me, “What’s the deal with Thanksgiving?” So, this is Kerry’s quick explanation for my curious non-American readers, including the history, traditions and the gritty truth.
Thanksgiving is the North American version of a harvest festival when we traditionally celebrate a good growing season and the end of winter preparations, like storing up food.
Harvest festivals are celebrated all over the world. At our house we celebrate the Chinese Moon Festival, Canadian Thanksgiving and then American Thanksgiving vicariously through our geographical neighbors. By the time American Thanksgiving rolls around I’m stuffed like turkey.
“Thanksgivings” were days of prayer widely practiced among the Christians who settled America. Religious leaders organized their communities to give thanks to God when the community received blessings like a victory in battle, a good growing season, or recovery from an illness.
United States President Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863. Since then, Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated. It’s on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States. Canada followed in 1879 and celebrates on the second Monday in October. In both countries leaders dedicated the day as a holy day of thanksgiving to God. Today, though churches emphasize thanks during services on that day, it’s mostly a secular holiday.
In Canada, since we’re such close neighbors with the United States, we’re used to seeing Thanksgiving motifs like turkeys, pilgrims, pumpkins and corn in November. This is especially true for homeschoolers because a lot of curriculum products are from the United States. The traditional Story of the First Thanksgiving, that was taught to kids in the United States, is the one I learned in school in Canada. It’s the source of most of the decorations so I’ll share it with you.
The traditional grade school version, spoiled by prejudice and inaccuracy, goes something like this.
Pilgrims, illustrated as Puritans in the big black hats and bonnets, came to settle with their families in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Life was harsh. They had trouble building houses and planting crops because the land, materials and crops were different from what they knew back home. The winter was unforgiving and they didn’t have access to doctors or medicines. They lived in fear of the indigenous people, illustrated as half naked, wild savages.
Throughout that first year the settlers made peace with their neighbors. They learned how to live from the indigenous people, who had mercy on the settlers and helped them hunt, gather seeds, plant crops and treat the sick. By the time the harvest of 1621 came they had plenty and celebrated together, at a giant feast. At Thanksgiving we remember that feast and celebrate cooperation, love and charity.
Of course, we now know that the first such feast likely happened between the Spanish and French settlers in a different time and place. Also, the relationship between European colonists and the indigenous tribes across North America was mostly exploitative. History is rife with the atrocities committed by colonists. For this reason, many people are abandoning the traditional Thanksgiving fairy tale, though the motifs are still popular. Many modern Thanksgiving stories for children avoid history and multiculturalism completely and shine the spotlight on ideas like family bonds, generosity and inclusiveness.
That’s why the choice of decorations seems so strange.
With that, it’s time for another JEI! The JEI (Just Enough Info) link up happens every Thursday. If you want the questions ahead of time like The Zelie Group on Facebook.
This week’s questions are about Thanksgiving.
1. Do you have to cook for Thanksgiving? If yes, what’s on the menu? If no, high five!
Yes, I cook for Thanksgiving. I cook turkey every opportunity I get because it’s actually pretty frugal by time I use all the leftovers and make stock in the slow cooker. This year we had roast asparagus and baked sweet potatoes with our turkey. Growing up my mother never made sweet potatoes and she certainly would never have followed the popular recipe with melted marshmallows. This year in an attempt to get my six year old to eat the potatoes I tried it. I liked it, but not enough to do it again. As usual, my daughter would only eat the turkey. We had pumpkin pie, though, one of the huge ones from Costco. Everybody loves pumpkin pie.
2. What famous person would you like to invite to your family Thanksgiving?
I always find these questions hard. I’m not a people person. Given the opportunity I’d eat alone! If I had to choose one famous person, though, it would be Julia Child. I think that she was so cool – being a spy and liking butter. We could drink wine and swap recipes.
3. Excluding family, health and basic needs met – what are 3 things that you are thankful for?
I’m thankful for The Zelie Group! It’s so great to have friends to help me navigate the blogging world. It’s so nice to put ideas out there and have people join in. Blogging isn’t lonely any more.
I’m thankful for my church. It’s nearby so it’s easy to get there. They have lots of things going on when I need a boost. Our church is accepting and welcoming. When I returned this year I’m sure I would have been scared away by some other church.
I’m thankful that my husband still loves computer games after all these years because he understands my obsession with The Sims. He looks for sales on expansions for me. When he gets them for me he knows that he needs to hand over the computer and find something else to do!
Please join us! Answer these three questions on you blog, on Facebook, even on Instagram and link up below.