Hello, everyone. My name is Richard, and (heavy sigh) I am a Thanksgiving fanatic. I don’t know if that makes me a Thanksgiving-aholic or a Pilgrim-phile but I am a Thanksgiving fanatic from the top of my bucket hat to the tips of my black buckle shoes. My family knows it. My friends know it. Now you do too.
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.
Maybe it was that Rankin/Bass animated chestnut The Mouse On the Mayflower (1968) that got me hooked (even if it is arguably the least factual of the holiday specials). Its songs by Tennessee Ernie Ford perfectly captured the twilight time of year between Autumn and Winter that Thanksgiving occupies. Or maybe it was A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973) with its more modern take on this traditional holiday: “What blockhead cooked all this?????”
Maybe it was the classic children’s book If You Sailed On the Mayflower (1969) by Ann McGovern, or the American Heritage book The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony (1961) by Feenie Ziner. Or even The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I have always found the early settling of America fascinating.
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).
Thanksgiving is the only holiday on the calendar where all Americans unplug for the day and sit down with family to share a common meal. It is a day about connecting with the past both as a family and as a nation. Whether we gather around the table at home or away, the important thing is that we gather together. Not alone but as friends or family or community. By doing so, we bridge the differences between us and discover the commonalities we share and which bind us together. The food is less important than the people we eat it with.
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.