Thanksgiving Day brings to mind many things like getting up at the crack of dawn to cook a delicious dinner, family gatherings, football with the Detroit Lions, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and a day to be thankful for all in our lives. It is a day of “going home”. Millions of Americans travel on this weekend to see family and friends they may not have seen all year. This holiday may not be celebrated throughout the world as Thanksgiving, however many countries have a festival sometime in autumn to celebrate and be thankful for the year’s harvest. Celebrations vary quite a bit even though the main intent is the same.

Stories of a huge feast with the Pilgrims and Native Americans have been told for years in America. Children in schools draw pictures of turkeys, cornstalks, pumpkins and scenes of the meal. There are a lot of very interesting thoughts on this first gathering and how it eventually became the traditional Thanksgiving feast we have today.

It is well known that the Mayflower traveled across the Atlantic for 66 days and reached Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, where the pilgrims eventually met the native people living there. These Native Americans taught them to grow corn, beans, and pumpkins throughout the summer and in autumn of 1621, they had a huge feast to celebrate their harvest. In a first hand account written by their leader, Edward Winslow, the feast included fish, venison, duck, geese, berries, lobster and watercress. So where was the turkey and how did this become the symbol of thanksgiving today?

One story talks of Queen Elizabeth of 16th Century England enjoying her goose dinner when she heard of the sinking of the Spanish Armada. She was so pleased she feasted on a second goose. When the pilgrims arrived there, however, they switched the menu to wild turkey since it was much easier to get than wild goose.

Another story talks of Ben Franklin and his thought of the turkey being a “very respectable bird”. At one time he actually wanted this bird to be the symbol of America. Other founding fathers also had a high respect for the turkey. Many celebrations already included turkey since one large bird could feed so many people. It was clear to see the transition to including turkey in the thanksgiving feast.

The publication of the novel , “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 also brought the idea of eating turkey into the minds of many families. The scene of Bob Cratchit’s family surrounding the table with a beautifully cooked turkey sent by a joyous Ebenezer Scrooge displayed the wonderful feeling of sharing ones love at Thanksgiving.

Along with the turkey, there are several other additions to the current Thanksgiving menu. It was highly unlikely the first feast included pumpkin pie or dinner rolls, due to the extreme shortage of flour. Pumpkins were plentiful, although they were probably boiled or stewed. Potatoes were not readily available either, so mashed potatoes would not have been a part of this meal. Sugar was a luxury and not many people were able to get it, making cranberry sauce a difficult sidedish to make. They did have cranberries, but ate them in a different manner.

During the 19th century, chefs of different regions adjusted the menu of the day depending on what was available for them to make and they would also put their native spin on dishes as well. This can still be seen today. Even here in America, some dishes will vary from New Mexico to Maine.

Thanksgiving was not always set on the same day in November either. That came about after several articles written by Sarah Josepha Hale to Abraham Lincoln discussing the matter. He declared the last Thursday of November to be a national day of celebration, hoping it would show unity between the North and the South. It wasn’t until Franklin D Roosevelt, that the day was assigned to the 4th Thursday and was declared a permanent National Holiday.

What started almost 400 years ago as a meal shared by two different cultures to celebrate the food they had grown, has now become a very important holiday in the lives of many families. It is a day for remembering family and gathering to connect with them and show their thanks. For many it is a religious holiday, thanking God for all the blessing in their lives. However you celebrate Thanksgiving and whatever your beliefs are, one of the most important things is being surrounded by the love of your family. It doesn’t matter if you have chicken instead of turkey, or rice instead of potatoes. The meal is just the means to getting people together.

With the economy the way it is, a lot of families can’t travel to meet other family members. Some families can’t even make a traditional Thanksgiving meal due to finances. Embrace them if you can, invite them to join your family and show them friends are a very important part of this holiday as well. The love from friends can help make the holiday a memorable one for these families.

One local restaurant, the Nestle Inn in Reed City, has been putting on a Thanksgiving meal for the past 4 years. It is by donation only and reservations are greatly appreciated.

For more information , call 832-3001. This is a great way to enjoy a meal with other community members , all while keeping your own kitchen clean!

Thanksgiving is a wonderful way to start the upcoming holiday season full of love and joy.