Between the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth in November 1620 and the spring of 1622, when fishermen at Damariscove Island (off Boothbay) had to feed the starving new community, the colonists and the Wampanog Indians forged a tenuous relationship that led to an autumn feast together in 1621 that historians have come to regard as the first Thanksgiving. With their successful crop harvest in their new home, and at least temporary harmony with their native neighbors, the Pilgrims had much for which to be thankful.
Over the years, the observance of Thanksgiving was inconsistent and neither annual nor in the same month. This changed in 1817, as New York became the first state to designate an official annual holiday called Thanksgiving. In 1863, President Lincoln declared a national holiday in November to be the official Thanksgiving.
While many early Thanksgiving traditions have passed, it remains a day for gathering and sharing with family and friends the bounty of life celebrated around a dinner. Thanksgiving Day is also marked by volunteerism as many come forward to help those less fortunate by organizing food baskets and dinners for those who lack the blessings for which we are thankful.
Many family gatherings this year will be marked by discourse and discomfort over the current state of affairs politically throughout our country. Polarizing stances within families over wedge politics and philosophical outlooks — us vs. them — do nothing to advance resolutions and ideas. Our culture is coarsened when we forget that most of our ideals unite us rather than separates us.
Almost 70-years ago, Herbert Hoover, our 31st president, made an address to Stanford University upon his 75th birthday, “Think of the Next Generation.” Hoover was an internationally successful engineer, miner, businessman and humanitarian who entered politics as the country’s commerce secretary in 1922, becoming president in 1929, eight months before the Great Depression began. His birthday speech decried the dangers of an ever-increasing federal debt, expanding government oversight and over-regulation of commerce and individuals, the growth of dependency on government support, increasing federal taxes and the impact on all citizens’ savings and income, as well as the government over-promising services and benefits.
At one point, Hoover even used a Japanese-English paraphrase that translated to, “Bring feet from clouds into swamp where we now are.”
Our successes are many, as a country, as a culture, as a community. While our issues might seem at times combative, they are often more philosophical and have existed for decades and won’t be solved over turkey and stuffing. We have much to be thankful for, and much we can resolve to remedy, yet we must also “think of the next generation” and how we can leave a place better than what we found. Let Thanksgiving be about community, understanding and compassion for others and appreciation for what we have.