Around Mantua by Virginia Goodell

Published:

Throughout the United States, Thanksgiving Day -- the fourth Thursday in November -- is a legal holiday. It is a time for family reunions and bountiful dinners and for giving thanks for the blessings of the past year.

Originally it was a harvest festival. The harvest festival is one of the oldest and most widespread of celebrations. Thanksgiving Day, however, began in the United States. It commemorates a particular celebration that was held after the first New England harvest in 1621.

The Pilgrims had come ashore from the Mayflower on Dec. 21, 1620. The winter had been heartbreaking.  Only about half of the original band survived. Fortunately, the harvest was good. There were 30 acres of the strange Indian corn, for which the Indians had furnished seeds. There were also barley and plenty of meat. William Bradford sent out four men to hunt for fowl. They returned with enough fowl and wild turkeys to last a week. Fishermen brought in cod and bass. Indian hunters contributed five deer. Ninety Indians, with their chief, Massasoit, feasted with the colonists for three days.

The date of the feast is not known. Bradford wrote in his history "Of Plimooth Plantation" that on Sept. 18 some men set out in a small boat for Massachusetts Bay to trade with the Indians. The harvest was gathered in after they returned. The feast must have occurred before Dec. 11. It was described in a letter written on that date by Edward Winslow of Plymouth to a friend in England. 

There is also no record that the feast was called a "thanksgiving." Appointing certain days for giving special thanks was a custom of the Puritans, but the first record of such a day was two years later, in 1623. Then the Pilgrims "set apart a day of thanksgiving" for rain that ended a terrible drought. Thanksgiving continued to be celebrated on varying dates, and proclamations were often issued by state governors.

Sarah Josepha Hale believed that Thanksgiving should be a national patriotic holiday. She was the editor of the popular women's magazine called Godey's Lady's Book. She began her campaign in 1846. Year after year, she wrote editorials and sent letters to the president, state governors and other influential people. For the date, she chose the last Thursday in November, because on the last Thursday of that month in 1789 George Washington had proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day in honor of the new United States Constitution. She chose the name Union Thanksgiving because she hoped to bring the states into a closer union. 

Finally, Sarah Hale was able to win the support of President Abraham Lincoln. In the third year of the war, he believed the union had been saved. On Oct. 3, 1863, he therefore proclaimed a national Thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday, Nov. 26. He also named the last Thursday of November to be a day to be observed every year. 

Lincoln and every president who followed him proclaimed the holiday each year. The date chosen, with few exceptions, was the last Thursday in November. President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought that Thanksgiving fell too close to Christmas, so in 1939 he issued a proclamation that the third Thursday would be Thanksgiving Day. Not all states complied.

In 1941, Congress finally issued a joint resolution that named the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving Day. 

I don't know if reading about the history of the holiday will make us more thankful or not, but I do know that we are all so richly blessed that we often neglect an important "attitude of gratitude" that should be the foundation for our lives every single day.  

Here is a Thanksgiving prayer our family has used for a long time. It appeared in the Dear Abby column, written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips:

"Heavenly Father, we thank you for food and remember the hungry. We thank you for health and remember the sick. We thank you for friends and remember the friendless. We thank you for freedom and remember the enslaved. May these remembrances stir us to service, that your gifts to us may be used for others."

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The Mantua area Community Thanksgiving service will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday at Hilltop Christian Church on West Prospect Street. The Rev. Carolyn M. Berry of Portage Faith United Methodist Church will deliver the message of the evening. All are welcome to participate. 

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Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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For Mantua news, contact Virginia Goodell at 330-274-2376 or vgoodell@aol.com.

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