Tomorrow we again celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving has a long history on this continent. Many of our traditions and folklore of the holiday go back to 1621 and the Plymouth Colony and the Puritan immigrants joining with the Native Americans who helped enable their survival to celebrate a harvest festival.
On the other hand, there are competing claims that the first thanksgiving celebration happened in 1565 in St. Augustine, Florida, or El Paso, Texas in 1598, or another observance in 1619 in the Virginia Colony.
In recent years, groups of Native Americans have held protests at Plymouth Rock, proclaiming Thanksgiving a National Day of Mourning. Others observe Native American Heritage Day on this holiday. Indeed, illustrations of happy and cheerful Native Americans and Pilgrims sharing an outdoor banquet on that first Plymouth Colony Thanksgiving Day hide the grim reality that their tribes soon became all but extinct because of diseases spread from Europeans, and warfare, once the Pilgrims became established. It’s not a happy history.
The first President of the United States, George Washington, issued a presidential proclamation designating November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty god.”
Thanksgiving was widely observed in many states, but often on different days, so in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday of November. Southern states engaged in the Civil War didn’t acknowledge Lincoln’s proclamation, so it wasn’t until 1870 that there was a true national observance of the day.
On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a Joint Resolution of Congress fixing the date of Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November, something FDR previously did by presidential proclamation two years earlier to give the country the economic boost of another week of Christmas shopping.
While there are many Thanksgiving traditions, most families eventually create their own. My earliest Thanksgiving memories are of family dinners and “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmothers house we go.” My grandmother was, in most years, the host of extended family gatherings. It would have been debatable whether conversations among these farmers about fall harvests and cattle prices were more in English or Norwegian, but the turkey dinner was totally traditional.
In recent years my wife and I have been on the road for Thanksgiving, making the long trip to the California Bay Area to celebrate the day with our daughter, Erin, and celebrating the day after Thanksgiving by going wine tasting in places such as Napa and Sonoma.
Those long road trips always carried risks of early winter snowstorms in the high Sierras, or anywhere else on the thousand miles between western Montana and northern California. We’ve never been snowbound, but we came close on some trips.
This year will be different. This year Erin told her corporate employer to “take this job and shove it,” and then schemed a plan to move back to Montana. I use the word “back” advisedly, in that she hadn’t actually lived in Montana since finishing 2nd grade in 1973, but she always claims Montana as her home state, so her move brings her home.
So, we’re thankful for many things this Thanksgiving. We’re thankful for good health and being able to have an active and busy lifestyle.
I’m thankful for another year in the great outdoors, especially here in Montana, and being able to have opportunities to spend time on trout streams, prairies, and mountains.
I’m thankful for Nature’s bounty, and that now in early winter, we have grouse, pheasants, ducks and venison in the freezer. I won’t claim that we live on wild game but it’s a privilege, in many countries reserved for the wealthy, to be able to enjoy occasional meals from the wild side.
I’m thankful for family and the blessings of growing older and being able to have seen our grandchildren grow up.
And, this year, I guess I’m also thankful for not having to worry about getting snowbound in Elko.