Thanksgiving 1621 -- a few brave people in a new, strange land giving
thanks to those who had helped them survive. Thanksgiving 2001--
millions of people in a land which has changed overnight, giving thanks
for what we have while we mourn what we have lost. Life is uncertain at
the best of times.
Nothing stays the same and this year Thanksgiving will be a much more
When the Pilgrims shared a dinner with the Wampanoag Indians in 1621
they had never heard of football or airplanes. They were simply
thankful that they were still alive and had something to eat. Of the
102 passengers on the Mayflower who had landed in Plymouth a year
before, over half had died from pneumonia and the privations of a hard
winter in a strange new world. The survivors had been befriended and
helped by the tribe of Indians and were saying thank you. For three
days the colonists and the Indian braves feasted on turkey and venison,
pumpkin and corn. The history books don't tell us what the Indian
women ate. Whatever it was, they probably ate it in the kitchen!
The Pilgrims, incidentally, didn't become known as "Pilgrims" for a
couple of hundred years. Originally they were known as "First Old
Comers," and then as "Forefathers." It was not until 1820 that Daniel
Webster, in a bi-centennial oration, referred to them as Pilgrims.
George Washington was thankful for the new Constitution and declared a
day of Thanksgiving in 1789. My old pal, Thomas Jefferson, however,
considered holidays a "monarchical practice" and paid no attention to
Thanksgiving, much to the disgust of the federal employees of his day.
Thanksgiving did not become a formal holiday until Mrs. Hale became
editor of Godey's Lady's Book. In 1846 she launched a campaign to make
Thanksgiving a national holiday, doubtless so people would have an
excuse to eat the luscious high-cholesterol food she described in loving
detail in her magazine. In 1864 Abe Lincoln finally gave in and
proclaimed the last Thursday in November as the day for thanksgiving.
For some reason I have long since forgotten, Franklin Roosevelt changed
the date in 1939, and the fourth Thursday in November is now set aside
for giving thanks.
For many years Thanksgiving has been celebrated chiefly with food and
football. This year I have $10 riding on the Colorado/Nebraska. And I
have been assigned the usual gravy making job for dinner. But this
Thanksgiving season might be a good time to eat less, watch less
football and think a little more about what we really do have.
It is a day to kick our way through the golden leaves and be glad that
we live in such a beautiful place. It is a day to think about and talk
to our families, however far away they may be. It is a day to be
especially thankful for our friends. It is a day to be thankful for
our freedoms. It is a day to appreciate all the wonderful things that
we have and to think about what we can do to make the world better. It
is a day to be more than usually considerate and kind to everyone around
Maybe we are not as far away from the Pilgrims as we like to think.
Nancy Gibbs writes in Time, "Whenever our ancestors came, it is
likely they were willing to trade certainty for opportunity, to face a
dangerous passage in order to arrive in a better place. This passage
feels plenty dangerous now. But it has also given our children new
heroes and our families new muscle and our beliefs new force, and that
is more than enough to be thankful for, on the day we celebrate