Pilgrims left Plymouth, England on September 6, 1620, headed to the New World. They arrived in Massachusetts in late November at Plymouth Rock. Upon their arrival, they held a prayer service and then started building themselves some hasty shelters. They were pretty much unprepared for the cold, harsh New England winter so nearly one half of them died before spring rolled around. They stuck it out with the help of a lot of prayer and the aid of some friendly Indians and then the following summer, they reaped a bountiful harvest.
The grateful Pilgrims then declared a three-day feast to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends. This feast started on Dec. 13, 1621. This was not the first Thanksgiving service in America since services were held in Virginia as early as 1607. This was, however, America’s first Thanksgiving Festival.
Pilgrim Edward Winslow described the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving by saying: “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men out fowling so that we might rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four, in one day, killed as much fowl as served the company almost a week. Many of the Indians came amongst us and their greatest King, Massasoit, with some 90 men, whom for three days, we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought… And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet BY THE GOODNESS OF GOD WE ARE FAR FROM WANT.”
In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation and America celebrated its first Day of Thanksgiving to God under its new constitution.
For 30 years, Mrs. Sarah Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady Book, contacted president after president trying to promote the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day. Finally, President Abraham Lincoln responded in 1863 and set aside the last Thursday of November as a national holiday.
I’m sure that since Thanksgiving Day has become a national holiday, a lot of people only think about it as a day to be off from their job. Back before I retired, I always enjoyed that part of it too, but we should all make it a point to think about all the things we have to be thankful for. So many times, I feel like we just don’t realize how well off we are compared to other countries where food is not as plentiful as it is here in the United States. Most of us are blessed with more than we need and yet we sometimes take it for granted and don’t thank God for our many blessings.
Nowadays I would like to be able to go back and relive some of the Thanksgiving Days from my past when my parents and in-laws were still alive. Since my mother-in-law passed away in January of this year, it will just be myself, my husband, our daughter, son-in-law and our four grandchildren to celebrate Thanksgiving together.
That seems like a really small crowd compared to the large group we celebrated with in years past. Since there were four children in my family, after we all got married and had children, there was a good-sized crowd of us when we all got together for any occasion at my parents’ house. Thanksgiving was always a day when the men and most of the boys went hunting together and the women and girls cooked and tried to watch the parades on TV. A lot of times we would take a dish or two we had prepared at home and then do some cooking together and help my mother finish up everything so we could eat lunch.
The men would be starved when they came in from hunting and always had stories to tell about the big one that got away. Then we would hear about whose shirt tail was gonna get cut off because they missed a shot at a deer. Of course, the women wouldn’t be quite as hungry as the men because we had just had to taste some of the food while we were cooking to make sure it was alright to eat.
It seems like we always had a good time together — just laughing and picking at one another and telling stories on one another about the past. Good food, good fellowship and Mama’s homemade biscuits. Who could ask for anything more?
After my parents both passed away, it seems like it has just gotten harder and harder for all of us to get together. Over the years we have tried, but now a lot of my nieces and nephews have their own families with in-laws to visit, so they just can’t be in two places at the same time.
Whenever I got married, I always thought it was important to spend time with my husband’s family too. Since my husband was an only child, it was a small group of us getting together for any holiday unless some of his extended family happened to be in town. Thankfully, early in our marriage, my mother-in-law always tried to have her Thanksgiving meal on Wednesday night since my family met on Thanksgiving Day.
When we first got married, my husband had an aunt who lived in Georgia. When she came to Rockingham for holidays, it seemed like the whole family came together at my mother-in-law’s house to eat. They came from a family of 10 children and when you added in their spouses and children, there was hardly any room to move around. Oh the good times we had all sitting around (wherever we could find a place) and listening to their stories of growing up in a large family and all the trouble some of them got into (or the trouble they got one another into).
It would be nice to be able to go back and hear those hunting and fishing stories again from the men in my family and ask my Mama’s advice about cooking and life in general; or to hear my mother and father-in-law ask me for the tenth time if I wanted anything else to eat. Maybe this time I would pay more attention because I would realize how important it is to spend quality time with your loved ones.
I hope all of you reading this today have a great Thanksgiving. Remember to think about all the blessings you have and be truly thankful for family and friends!
Azalea R. Bolton is a resident of Richmond County, member of the Story Spinners of Laurinburg, and member of the Historical Society of Richmond and Anson counties.