The Unique History of Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s time to prepare for family, feasting, and football. Timeless traditions surround this holiday, and it seems as though every American is aware of its origins. As a kid, I remember dressing up as a Pilgrim or Native American to celebrate a Thanksgiving feast just as they did in 1621. We learned that these two very different people came together to celebrate and feast together, which is the reason why we celebrate the same thing today. But, there are many facts about this historical event that the average person, including me until I wrote this blog, does not know.

When the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe joined together to feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts, they had no intentions of celebrating on a yearly basis. For them, it was just a big get-together where everyone brought a dish of food to share. So, this was technically the first American potluck during the colonial days. The Pilgrims often dedicated days of thanksgiving to God when harvests or other good things occurred. When they finished feasting on their harvest with the neighboring Indians, they dedicated themselves to acts of thanksgiving.

This custom grew as the colonies expanded, and by the 19th century, many U.S. States adopted the holiday as an annual event. Abraham Lincoln selected the final Thursday of November as the day to celebrate Thanksgiving in 1863, but Franklin D. Roosevelt changed it to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939 to increase the shopping days before Christmas. Every U.S. president has delivered a Thanksgiving proclamation of some sort. However, the common pardon that is given out to one turkey did not begin until 1989 with George H.W. Bush. This tradition calls for the U.S. president to pardon a domesticated turkey from the Thanksgiving Day festivities for the rest of its life. Ever since, the turkey pardon has been an entertaining and enjoyable tradition for all to watch, unless you’re a turkey.

The large amounts of food are one of the best parts of Thanksgiving. Every year, I eat far too much and usually regret it, but isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Every family dines differently on this day, but the most popular food for Thanksgiving is turkey. I grew up eating turkey every Thanksgiving, so I cannot imagine one without it. Despite this popular practice, there is no record of turkey being eaten by the Pilgrims in 1621. Instead, they ate venison as the main dish. Also, the popular Thanksgiving dessert, pumpkin pie, was not on the menu during the first Thanksgiving either. The Pilgrims were really missing out.

Perhaps the oddest part about the history of Thanksgiving is the various towns that claim to have started the Thanksgiving tradition before the Plymouth settlers. A small town in Texas called San Elizario makes claims for having the first Thanksgiving in America. In 1598, a Spanish explorer led a group of settlers across the Mexican desert. When they finally reached the banks of the Rio Grande River, they celebrated with thanksgiving. This Texan town is not the only place to declare its Thanksgiving claims. Berkeley Plantation in Virginia also argues that they started the tradition in 1619, just two years before the Plymouth settlers celebrated. Both towns reenact their own Thanksgiving Day events and defend their claims as the original location of Thanksgiving.

Regardless, thanksgiving has been a huge part of our culture. Many things have changed, but the values remain the same. It’s a time when we can relax with others and slide into a coma from all the delicious food. More importantly, it’s a time when everyone can reflect on their lives and give thanks for what they have been blessed with.

Written by Jack

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Works Cited:

Shenkman, Rick. “Top 10 Myths About Thanksgiving.” History News Network, 2001. https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/406.

History.com Editors. “Mayflower Myths.” HISTORY, 2009.https://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/mayflower-myths.

Bathroom Readers Institute. “6 Things Everyone Believes About Thanksgiving That AreAbsolutely Untrue.” Reader’s Digest, 2018. https://www.rd.com/culture/thanksgiving-myths/.

Monkman, Betty C. “Pardoning the Thanksgiving Turkey.” The White House Historical Association, 27 September 2018.  https://www.whitehousehistory.org/pardoning-the-thanksgiving-turkey.

Rosenberg, Jennifer. “How FDR Changed Thanksgiving.” ThoughtCo., 2017. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-fdr-changed-thanksgiving-1779285.

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Veteran’s Day and the Ethics of Honor

President Wilson’s words at the commemoration of the first Armistice Day in 1919 ring true to this day: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.” Germany and the allied nations signed a peace treaty known as the Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I on November 11th. That day was declared a day to not only remember World War I veterans, but to observe and maintain world peace as well.

Armistice Day gave birth to Veteran’s Day in 1954. Though many hoped and even proclaimed that World War I would be “the end of all wars,” World War II followed and brought that hope to a tragic end. Furthermore, a great number of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and several other military personnel were deployed for this war, leading the 83rd Congress to replace the word “Armistice” with “Veterans” to honor veterans of all wars.

Veteran’s Day is often easily confused with Memorial Day. While Veteran’s Day is a day to honor the living veterans of all wars, Memorial Day was established a year after the Civil War to honor those who fell in active duty. Both holidays are celebrated in a similar way and can even be interchangeable, but what they each stand for possesses distinct uniqueness. Moreover, Veteran’s Day honors men and women who have served in the military, regardless of whether it was in combat or not. Several people go out of their way to celebrate Veteran’s Day; from decorations and gatherings, to free goods and services for veterans, there are many ways people choose to express their gratitude and appreciation.

Most people agree that war is brutal and ugly, but when a nation is faced with the question “why are we going to war?” the answers vary, which makes it a rather controversial topic that garners some serious reactions from people across the political spectrum. Though Veteran’s Day is a national holiday, those who served aren’t always treated with the honor and respect they deserve. For instance, veterans of the Vietnam War were not fortunate enough to get a festive reception. This was due to the fact that the US neither had an objective or declared war beforehand, which caused the rise of an extremely contentious political climate during the war.

Students on university campuses and in the academic society started an anti-Vietnam War movement; soon, protests became more prominent and drew people’s attention to the reality of the war. When the soldiers that fought in the Vietnam War returned home, they didn’t get a hero’s welcome. Several veterans testified about being mistreated, insulted, and in some cases, assaulted. Another war that was ethically, morally, and politically controversial was the Iraq War. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq due to their alleged possession of “weapons of mass destruction,” an idea that was not clearly verified. Both wars took so many lives and nearly destroyed nations for reasons that are not clear to this day, which is why many felt the need to protest and oppose.

Some might begin to wonder if there is an instance where one should or shouldn’t honor a veteran. Most of the people that decide to either protest or refrain from celebrating holidays like Veteran’s Day have probably wondered the same thing as well. The answer to the question depends on the individual, but there are some factors we can consider to help guide us towards it. Sometimes, men and women in armed forces can decided whether or not they wish to serve; however, like in the Vietnam War, many had no choice but to serve and were simply following orders from their superiors. Therefore, despising them and blaming them for everything doesn’t change the situation.

Everyone has the right to agree or disagree with the government’s decisions on wars, and they have the freedom of speech to express that too. However, political criticism should be the last thing veterans get considering the several challenges they face that are often unique to their circumstances and background as former military personnel. On Veteran’s Day, the focus should be on the bravery and will of the human spirit displayed through ordinary men and women who exhibit extraordinary courage. The least we can do is to put our politics aside, take time out of our day to give back, and help make them feel appreciated.

Written by Kenean

Sources

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. “Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.” Learn to Communicate Assertively at Work, 20 Mar. 2006, www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp.

IowaPublicTelevision. “Experiences of Vietnam Veterans Returning Home from War.” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Oct. 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6t9jchhVRg.

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Let Freedom Ring!

On July 4, 1776, birds chirped joyously as a light breeze made its way through the Philadelphia hill country. The townsfolk watched anxiously as prominent men in shiny black loafers made their way toward the Pennsylvania State House. Among the men walked Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Leading the pack was none other than ginger-headed Thomas Jefferson – Congress’ most eloquent writer who led the composition of the Declaration of Independence. The men made their way into the large, opulent building, and the slamming of the doors behind them resounded through the town. Little did these men know that the events that were to take place in that big state house would change the trajectory of American history forever.

The Fourth of July is a popular patriotic holiday which allows U.S. citizens to celebrate the publication of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776. Beginning the year after the Declaration was adopted, Americans started celebrating Independence Day. Early Fourth of July festivities included concerts, bonfires, parades, and the firing of cannons and muskets. This was usually accompanied by the reading of the Declaration of Independence. Things have changed a little; although we still celebrate by shooting fireworks, attending concerts, and throwing parades, we also organize family reunions, have barbecues and picnics, and go to baseball games.

The freedom found in the love of Christ offers the utmost liberation and freedom. Romans 6:6-7 tells us, “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (NIV). Though America is bountiful in blessings and freedom, it pales in comparison to the deliverance of Jesus. Sin ensnares the lives of all people; however, under grace, liberation from sin does not come from a written declaration, but rather a living crucifixion. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are no longer slaves to fear and sin, but rather living, liberated children of God.

Written by Lindsey

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Glücklicher Reformationstag!

Nothing says “Happy Halloween” quite like black hooded figures chanting in a strange language, a creepy old castle, and runaway nuns. Well, maybe not the nuns, but all these things do have something in common with Martin Luther, and believe it or not, Martin Luther has something to do with Halloween. Christians are quick to dismiss Halloween as a holiday for heathens and unclean liberals, but next to Easter and Christmas, October 31 should be one of the most important anniversaries on the Protestant calendar.

The story starts with Luther as a lowly Augustinian monk. Luther joined the monastery after a near-death experience with a thunderstorm prompted him to make an irretractable vow to Saint Anne to spare his life at the price of becoming a monk. This is why we don’t play in lightning, kids; you might end up selling all your possessions and donning a wicked-awesome hooded robe while you recite rhythmic Latin prayers. Anyway, as a monk, Luther had time to study Scripture and noticed discrepancies between the actions of the Church and the actual commandments of the Bible. For instance, the Pope cannot take money from people in exchange for the pardoning of sins. The Church should not be the biggest oppressor of the poor. The realization of the rampant presence of these atrocities prompted Luther to nail a list of 95 complaints against Christian leaders to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany on—you guessed it—October 31, 1517.

Stopping the story here would be like offering a bowl of carrots to trick-or-treating children: misleading and highly disappointing. Luther is most famous for helping reform Christian theology, but that is only a fraction of his story.

Despite furious backlash from the Pope and his goonies (is that sacrilegious to say?), Luther stuck by his claims and successfully got himself excommunicated and outlawed, which meant anyone could beat, rob, or kill him without any legal consequences. To protect Luther, a friend hid Luther in his (creepy, old) castle under the alias of Knight George. When Luther got bored playing hopscotch and skittles—which are actual medieval pastimes, look it up—he translated the New Testament into German, the common vernacular of the people.

Impressive as that was, Luther was determined to do more. He returned to Wittenberg where he spent the next decades of his life preaching the truth of the Bible, composing hymns, writing passionate books, penning history-altering laws, and occasionally helping Catholic-turned-Protestant nuns escape their convents and assimilate into normal society, usually by introducing them to suitable husbands. One of these runaway nuns was named Katarina, and the suitable husband Luther found for her was himself. Katie proved to be not only a faithful wife, but also a savvy business partner and exceptional encourager for Luther’s reoccurring seasons of depression. Without Katie’s support, the Reformation could have died after the translation of the Bible.

This is only a fraction of Martin Luther’s story, yet its implications for believers and non-believers today are too many to name. Luther was looking for an academic debate when he nailed his grievances, but what he got was a spiritual, social, and political revolution that deeply affects our lives. Luther’s translation of the New Testament empowered the masses to read the Bible, and the study of Scripture skyrocketed the literacy rate, which then in turn prompted the creation of universal education and boosted the economy. Luther’s relationship with Katie also radically shifted the cultural perspective on marriage and family. Gone were the days of celibate church leaders parading themselves as holier-than-thou. Women were given the potential to become spiritual leaders in their homes, and children found a new place of honor and discipleship.

Little actually changed in Germany on Halloween of 1517, but without the events of that day and the decades of radical transformation that followed, the world as of Halloween 2017 might be totally unrecognizable. So if you still want to hate Halloween, that’s fine. Somebody else can wear this fabulous Martin Luther costume. But do take a minute or two to learn something about Martin Luther and the Reformation because it matters to you as a literate Christian living in a country with free education and protected women’s rights. I think you’ll be surprised how important black hooded figures, creepy old castles, and runaway nuns are to your life.

Written by Savanna

Image credit: Savanna Mertz

Fingerprints of Independence

Unless you’ve been to Washington D.C. to see the Declaration of Independence with your own eyes, you might not know it has somebody’s fingerprint ink smudge on it. I know, insensitive right? How dare you—whoever you are—put your grubby fingers all over the most precious gift of liberty ever bestowed upon the civilized world.

I wouldn’t blame any proper American for responding this way, but with respect to the circumstances, we ought to cut the guy some slack. For one thing, the Declaration of Independence that is on display in the National Archives Building is one of several original drafts. It’s not as if he soiled the only copy extant. Secondly, chances are high that, as the Continental Congress was accustomed to doing, he had to pack up the Declaration in a hurry and flee from the threat of the British Army. And, of course, we can’t leave out the most important detail surrounding this whole discussion: Some guy literally left his fingerprint on THE Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock left metaphorical fingerprints on the document, but this guy actually impressed a part of himself, unique to him and him alone, permanently onto one of the most valuable documents in all of history.

Nothing illustrates the beauty of America’s Independence Day better than this. The fingerprints of unknown individuals helping to shape a nation are what America is supposed to be about. American liberty was not won by the efforts of a few famous founding fathers, but by the life-long commitments of billions of normal people. How many signers of the Declaration can you actually name? What about the Constitution? Can you list more than five vice presidents or Supreme Court justices? The goal is not to shame you because you are not a history scholar; I want to encourage you because you are a history maker. No one is arguing against the influence of any revolutionary framers or anyone who has served in public office, yet when even their names go unremembered, why do we continue to ignorantly attribute the success of the United States to a handful of faces carved in a mountainside or etched onto currency?

America was built by the unknown for the worth-knowing. An unrecognized founding father named Button Gwinnett signed the Declaration of Independence so that Abraham Lincoln could one day sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The patriot laid to rest at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier sacrificed his life so that Rosa Parks could one day refuse to give up her bus seat. Slaves labored to construct the White House so that one day Michelle Bachmann and Hilary Clinton could have a shot at sitting in the Oval Office. The fingerprints of the unnamed masses lay beneath the thin layer of recognizable individuals and milestone accomplishments that highlight history textbooks.

No one will ever know the name of patriot who left his fingerprint on the Declaration of Independence. But just down the road from where that document rests is a memorial dedicated to the man who penned the words of the Declaration; every Fourth of July, fireworks illuminate his tribune, and people speak his name with respect and awe. To some, we build monuments, and to others, we give honor by imitating their courage and patriotism and by walking down the path of freedom they laid out before us. Immigrants. Descendants of the Pilgrims. Welfare families. Trust fund babies. Criminals. Religious ministers. Farmers. Wall Street brokers. Republicans. Democrats. Privileged women of color. Low-income white men. Single dads. CEO mothers. United by freedom and empowered by liberty, these are the ones who bring independence to life through the way they live their day to day lives as Americans.

All are equally American, and all have equal claim on the American Story. Whoever you are, whatever your narrative is, if you use the privilege of your liberty to make a way for others to find their own freedom, if you celebrate every day you wake up an American as Independence Day, you, too, will surely leave your fingerprints on America’s legacy.

Written by Savanna

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Hey Labor Day

Hey Labor Day!

I just wanted to say thanks for a day off of school. Unfortunately, school starts before you arrive. That’s changed since your formation. Sorry about that. You no longer symbolize the end of summer and the start of school. But, we must not forget your original purpose. A long time ago, there was a conflict between the American working class and their employers. In the late 1800s, a boycott against the Pullman railway cars caused the federal government to dispatch soldiers to break up the strike (“Labor Day”). Riots broke out and many workers lost their lives. Finally, Congress realized the importance of having a day devoted to the working class (“Labor Day”). Thus, Labor Day was born. You are celebrated the first Monday in September, a federal holiday. You are the much needed break between summer and Thanksgiving. So what can we do during this wonderful time you have brought us?

Well, what most people have done in the past is to hold a parade! In fact, “on September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history” (“Labor Day”). Businesses, schools, and organizations build floats and line up one by one to proceed slowly through the center of town. Some floats have moving parts, are covered in twinkle lights, or simply feature music and a few signs. It is not uncommon for food trucks or restaurants to cater food to these events. The folks of the town and those coming to see the festivities often bring foldable chairs and position themselves side-by-side along the edges of the road. After the parade, most families simply return home and enjoy the rest of your holiday before returning to school or work the next day.

1st labor day

Sometimes, Labor Day, neighbors converge on a cul-de-sac and have a cookout! This is my favorite way to spend your holiday. All the grills are brought out, and meat is cooked and smoked. Burgers, hot dogs, sausage, or anything that can be cooked is on the grill. Those who don’t grill make the side dishes: beans, coleslaw, potato salad, fries, and fruit salad. And don’t get me started on the desserts, probably the best part in my opinion: cake, cupcakes, ice cream, brownies, cookies, and special concoctions with pudding. This is a great way for everyone in a neighborhood to come together and mingle. And the best part is that the food is basically free!

There are many more options that people can choose from to celebrate time off from school/work. Whatever they choose, though, your holiday is a wonderful siesta/fiesta from the grueling effects of education.

Each and every year we welcome you back with open arms and relaxed minds. We won’t forget all you do for us, Labor Day.

Sincerely,

Maddie

“Labor Day.” History.com. 2010. 26 Apr. 2016.

Written by Maddison

Image credits: Featured Image, First Labor Day Parade