Originally created 11/27/03

There is more to Thanksgiving than a roasted bird

Sometime today, as you reach for a turkey leg, another slice of pie or the TV remote, take time to remember how our Thanksgiving holiday began.

At the same time, forget most of what you knew.

To begin with, forget it if you thought Thanksgiving started in 1620, the year the Mayflower landed in what is now Massachusetts. That was a bad year; cold and disease wiped out many of the colonists. There was little to give thanks for.

The native tribe of farmers already had been beaten into submission by a plague, perhaps smallpox. The Indians helped the newcomers plant crops the next year, and the harvest was good. Gov. William Bradford decreed a time for celebration.

Was turkey on the first menu? No one knows for sure. The men bagged deer and fowl of some sort. Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoags brought 90 braves to the weeklong party, outnumbering the Europeans.

It wasn't a religious feast. The men in the Plymouth Colony competed with the Indians in contests of shooting, hand wrestling, throwing, running and jumping; the women and girls had kitchen patrol.

The settlers thought of themselves as separatists (from the Church of England). The word "Pilgrim" (Latin for "wanderer") didn't come into favor until the 1840s.

The Mayflower wasn't a church bus. In addition to the freedom-seeking separatists, the Mayflower carried people simply wanting to stake a claim in the new land.

The Pilgrims weren't somber zealots, either, and didn't wear tall hats, black clothes and big, shiny buckles. Nor did they live in log cabins; instead, they had clapboard houses with thatched roofs.

They weren't Puritans, who arrived a decade later and were less radical, believing that there was still hope for saving the Church.

The Mayflower probably didn't land at Plymouth Rock. That legend didn't arise until the 1740s, and then only through word of mouth.

In the 1800s the Victorians re-created the settlers' in their own image (prim and proper) and transformed Thanksgiving into a religious event.

There is no record of a Thanksgiving ceremony in 1622, but the next year a feast was held in summer, complete with turkey and cranberry sauce (it helped prevent the scurvy that had thinned their population that first year).

After that, the tradition became a sporadic - often banned - holiday in various places. Thanksgiving gained widespread recognition in the early 1800s when Sarah Joseph Hall, the editor of a women's magazine, lobbied for a national day of thanksgiving.

Her crusade led President Lincoln to proclaim Aug. 6, 1863, as national Thanksgiving Day. He decreed the last Thursday of November 1864 as "a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in heavens."

After that, presidents kept the observance on the fourth Thursday of November until 1939, when Franklin Roosevelt moved it back a week to lengthen the Christmas shopping season and boost the depressed economy.

In 1941, Congress returned Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of the month and made it a legal federal holiday.

So, you thought Thanksgiving was a simple holiday? Forget about it.

NOTE TO READERS: This is my final column for Neighbors. Beginning Monday, it will run each week in the Metro section of The Augusta Chronicle. Thanks for reading, and don't stop now.

Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.


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