Thanksgiving is celebrated in many countries in different forms. In the United States, however, Thanksgiving is one of the most important of holidays. More families will plan and work at bringing everyone together for Thanksgiving than for any other holiday. People value coming together as family to be thankful; thankful to God, thankful for family, thankful for the prosperity and blessings of the past year.

Originally Thanksgiving evolved out of the initial European settlers (later called Pilgrims) establishing themselves here in what we know now as the United States of America. The Native American First Nations (Wampanoag tribe) helped the Pilgrims by showing them how to plant and grow different foods. To celebrate the good harvest, the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared three days of feasting and games. The Pilgrims brought chicken, duck, possibly turkey and many of the vegetables they had grown, including potatoes, corn, yams, pumpkin and fruits. The Native Americans brought venison to the feast. They even had a type of beer at the feast.

President Abraham Lincoln’s beautiful Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 – in the height of the terrible suffering of the Civil War- states so clearly the basic reason for the Day of Thanksgiving – – our indebtedness to Almighty God. “I do therefore invite my fellow citizen in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens.” … “and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.” Abraham Lincoln’s, Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863.

Over the years the holiday has transitioned to what we see today in movies and stories. Large families including extended family and friends gather at the matriarch’s home. The women of the family all migrate to the kitchen and together cook the turkey, cornbread dressing, gravy, honey baked ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, ambrosia salad, and pumpkin pie. The men and children gather in the living room watching the Macy’s parade and local parades on television. Then they all gather around a large table where the head of the household says the blessing over the food and invites everyone to thank God and to voice what they are thankful for this year and to ask God’s blessings on the poor and needy amongst us. The turkey and/or ham is carved and the rest of the food passed around the table and everyone eats till they cannot possibly eat any more…at least until it’s time to snack on leftovers later in the evening.

After the feast the women are back in the kitchen to do the dishes and then sit down at the kitchen table for coffee and chatting. All the while the men move back to the television to cheer on their favorite football teams in competition with each other. Many ethnic families share foods unique to their cultures, for example tamales or gumbo or lamb or roasted whole pig. Whatever meal is shared, throughout the day, family is together, stories are retold, memories and family traditions honored and new memories are made and thousands of free meals are prepared for the homeless and needy in our city…THAT is Thanksgiving.

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