The fourth Thursday in November is a uniquely American holiday, whose modern roots lie with Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt, two gentlemen who fixed into the American legislation a regular date for the tradition. But its original roots go back to the early 1600s when the earliest British settlers arrived on the shores of what was then the New World.
These Pilgrims, who had left troubled religious times in England, had briefly settled in Holland before taking the bold step of sailing on the Mayflower to pastures new to develop a land to secure their traditions and religious beliefs. After their arduous journey they landed and with some difficulty established a colony. It was a challenging ordeal and they would not have survived without the vital help they received from the local Native American population. It was a European tradition at the time to ‘give thanks’ for blessings on special holidays. In 1612, two different peoples, settlers and natives, sat down together to give thanks for arriving in this land of opportunity. This is considered to be the first ‘Thanksgiving’ meal.
Although there is no celebration of thanksgiving in Britain, the British calendar is laced with significant historical dates and traditional festivities, so we have a good understanding of the historical significance of Thanksgiving and the desire to celebrate it.
Thanksgiving is traditionally the time for families to gather and celebrate unity and togetherness. People travel from all over the States, and indeed the world, to be with their families and to celebrate. This reunion is often performed all over again for Christmas just a month later. Not only that, but the traditional meal for Thanksgiving is a turkey, which is also the traditional meal for Christmas. Most households in Britain have no clue what to do with one lot of leftover turkey, but our American cousins have two months of it. We salute you and your ability to have turkey twice a year in quick succession. We will quite happily share our recipe for a good turkey curry, if you would like it?
And to follow the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, dessert may well be a large serving of pumpkin pie, but there is probably plenty left over from Halloween, less than a month prior. The relatively quick succession of three festivals within three months: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, is good cause for an enormous amount of eating to see you through the cold winter months.
We love a good parade in Britain, pomp and pageantry is in our blood, and it is usually linked to royalty, mayors or military occasions. A certain smart-thinking US department store so a gap in the market and managed to establish its own Thanksgiving parade, which has become an American tradition, linking it to Christmas with Santa Claus being a central part of the parade. The white-bearded, red-suited jolly fellow is indeed a kind of pseudo-royalty, and so is worthy of some pageantry.
Now, as the rest of America is tucking into turkey and pumpkin pie, there is a band of men that are unable to celebrate with their families and eat themselves into oblivion. These are the American football players who have to play, like Gladiators, for the entertainment of the general populace. Do spare a thought for these professionals and college players alike, who have to work on a day that is set aside for rest. Or maybe they just want to get out of eating more turkey than they can consume and sitting with Aunt Agatha talking about her bunions until Christmas.
The core tradition of a religious festival of thanks, inherited from the puritan forefathers, is central to the day. We all, whether American or not, should express gratefulness for the many blessings that have come to pass in the year before and, whichever higher power you believe in, or if you do not believe in one at all, an attitude of gratitude for at least one day a year is a healthy approach.
Finally, we thank our American cousins for giving thanks to their British roots and reminding us that we only have one month left to get our turkey ready and buy presents for Christmas.
Wishing all our American ladies and gentleman a truly happy Thanksgiving.