I have been in love with Thanksgiving since I was a child. I love everything about the day: the story behind it, the menu, the smell of the house as the turkey cooks, the camaraderie of family and friends coming together around the dining room table. If I had to rank the day on my list of favorite days of the year, Thanksgiving would slot in easily at #3 behind Christmas and the Indianapolis 500.
Why Thanksgiving? The story of the Pilgrims has always appealed to me. How they chose to leave Europe for America in search of religious freedom. Their perilous voyage across the storm tossed Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower. How they survived a brutal New England winter that killed almost half their number. How they forged a peaceful alliance with the area Native American tribe that lasted for 50 years. How they all came together (immigrant and native alike) to celebrate their first successful harvest in the New World. And how their spirit and ideals laid the foundation for what became the United States of America.
Yes, I know most of the Thanksgiving story is a myth. I know turkey wasn’t the main course on the menu. I know it wasn’t held on the 4th Thursday of November. I know the Native Americans weren’t invited; they just showed up. I know the Pilgrims didn’t even call it Thanksgiving. I know that they didn’t even call themselves Pilgrims. But you know, I don’t care.
Even when I was a kid, I would try and make the day special. I would get up in the morning and read If You Sailed On the Mayflower. It was the only day of the year I allowed myself to read it. In the afternoon I would catch a showing of Mouse on the Mayflower or Plymouth Adventure (1952) starring Spencer Tracy and Gene Tierney. (Football never has played a part in the day for me). Then in late afternoon my family would gather together around the table. It was the only meal of the year we ate by candlelight. And my family would humor me as I stood up and did a brief speech very similar to what Linus says in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. We would eat. We would have fun. We would clean up. And finish the day by watching Miracle on 34th Street (1947), that classic movie linking Turkey Day with Christmas.
The day has changed some through the years. Football has a greater part than it used to. My wife’s family added chocolate turkeys and turkey butter and chocolate mousse to the mix (yum! yum!). Not to mention the three different kinds of cranberry sauce on the table (each someone’s family tradition).
The words spoken by William Brewster at that first Thanksgiving still applies today: 'We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land. We thank God for the opportunity to create a new world for freedom and justice." Pass the cranberry sauce, please.