As a kid, I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning to the smell of roasting turkey. I’d bound out of bed, rushing down to watch my mother as she prepared special foods for our family meal. Recipes she reserved for this day alone such as candied yams, green bean casserole with crunchy onions, and “traditional” dressing. Some of my best memories arise from meals shared around the dining table on the fourth Thursday in November. Therefore, I thought I’d share a bit about Thanksgiving’s history and a recipe as well.
Throughout history, people around the world of various cultures have used feasting as a way to celebrate (and give thanks to their gods) for a plentiful harvest, survival through Winter, the end of a thing or the beginning of another. And while I know Americans tend to believe our annual celebration of “Thanksgiving” is unique, it’s actually the continuation of a longstanding and ancient tradition. And American Thanksgiving has a complicated history at best.
The “First” Thanksgiving?
The most well-known origin is found in 1621, when the Pilgrims (who came to establish a colony built upon their brand of Calvinist Christian belief) held three days of celebration in thanks for a good harvest with the local Wampanoag tribe.
The pilgrims knew nothing about survival where they landed in the “new world.” The Wampanoag who already lived there, through the translation services of Squanto (who’d been a slave in England), taught the Pilgrims how to feed themselves in their new home. They even gave them extra food to survive during harsh months of illness, death and lack of supplies. Apparently, the three days combined feasting, solemn prayer to the Pilgrim’s God, and Wampanoag harvest traditions in the form of sports.
However, according to plimoth.org, “Florida, Texas, Maine and Virginia each declare itself the site of the First Thanksgiving and historical documents support the various claims. Spanish explorers and other English Colonists celebrated religious services of thanksgiving years before Mayflower arrived.” Regardless of which origin is correct, a day of “thanksgiving” became common practice.
Thanksgiving in America
Various presidents have declared a national “day of thanks” throughout United States history including Washington, Adams, Monroe, Lincoln and others. And over time, the holiday went from being a pious affair to family gatherings. In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale, pettitioned to have Thanksgiving declared a national holiday.
By the 1850’s “Thanksgiving” was being observed by families in most of the states and territories. Interestingly, Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a means to extend Christmas shopping and boost the economy with another day called “Black Friday”, moved the celebration to the next-to-the-last Thursday in November. However, in 1941 congress declared the 4th Thursday of that month as the official national holiday.
Food has been an established part of Thanksgiving from its origins. The “traditional” fare of turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie comes from New England. However, cooks from various parts of the country have brought their “local flavor” into the meal based on the ingredients available. Chili’s, hazelnuts, wild rice and key lime are included in menus across the country. Additionally, traditions have grown up around the holiday including watching the Macy’s Thankgiving Day Parade and college football.
Holidays Can Be Hard
There are many people (millenials in particular) who no longer wish to celebrate Thanksgiving. Why? Because despite its message of gratefulness, unity and familial togetherness, the colonization of this land came with a blood price suffered by the indigenous tribes. This is a part of American history which cannot (and should not) be swept under the rug any longer.
Additionally, relationships are complicated and none more so than family ones. The holidays can be brutal for Witches, Wiccans, Pagans, et al., who have Christian family members seeking to “save their souls” while passing the mashed potatoes.
Add into the mix those who are homeless, those who are mourning the loss of loved ones, those who’ve been rejected by family for being homosexual, transgender, or who are marginalized for one reason or another. However, there are new options available for those who wish to celebrate thankfulness without going against their conscience or subjecting themselves to hurtful encounters.
How About Friendsgiving Instead?
Around 2007, people began getting together on or near the traditional holiday to share a meal with friends. Friendsgiving is a great option for those who wish to avoid the traditional holiday. Check out the rules on how to host the feast if you’ve not already attended one. Car and I can attest to such a gathering being a lot of fun.
Why I Celebrate Thanksgiving For My Mother
As mentioned, the reason I celebrate Thanksgiving is to honor my mother. For years, she spent time creating memories for our family through countless meals prepared with love. Sharing holiday traditions passed down from her mother and grandmothers with my siblings and me.
Over the years, time and circumstance has made it so that our extended family no longer gathers for the holidays. My siblings and I spread far and wide, starting our own families. Over the years, distance has created difficulties in gathering with my siblings en masse. And now, divergence in politics and spiritual beliefs makes reunion uncomfortable, somtimes impossible.
However, eating a meal together on Thanksgiving is one of the traditions my mother and I have maintained. And I will continue to do so in gratitude. Not as a thankful offering to the Christian deity (or even as a national observance) but for my mother, who holds this day as a special time with my little family. Therefore, as long as I’m able there will be a traditional meal prepared (and shared) every 4th Thursday of November in honor of her.
A Thanksgiving Recipe To Share
My mother always included jellied cranberry to our Thanksgiving meal. Yes, the gross stuff from the can which I’ve never been able to enjoy. However, I learned to make a homemade cranberry relish which is delicious, especially when dolloped on wheat thin crackers which are slathered with cream cheese.
Whole fresh cranberries – 1 (12 oz) bag
Sugar – 1 cup sugar
Water – 1 cup water
In the saucepan, bring the water and sugar to boil. Add the cranberries. Simmer at low boil until the cranberries begin to burst, stirring clockwise while envisioning a peaceful meal filled with love. (I’m a Witch. I throw magick into my meals).
Allow to boil down until it becomes a chunky “jam-like” sauce. Remove the pan from the stove and let cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
**Cranberries are tart. Feel free to add sugar to taste. The relish should be chunky enough to serve over crackers with cream cheese (seriously, try it!), added to a turkey sandwich without running, etc.