For me, I’ve always associated Thanksgiving with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, pumpkin pie and large gatherings of family and friends. It is a time of abundance and being thankful for the richness of life. But, the early years of the explorers who came to the American continent were difficult ones indeed. Those explorers, the Pilgrims, faced harsh weather, unpredictable relations with the natives, disease and other challenges as they carved out homes from the wilderness they found here. Because their earliest homesteads were in the northeast, the winters were harsh. Their ability to build houses that could keep them warm, as well as their ability to find sufficient food, was a constant worry to the men and women trying to raise families in America.
So anytime they received help from the native population, it was viewed as a gift from God and accepted with the greatest joy and celebration. A Native American chief named Squanto saw the plight of these new neighbors and saw to it his tribe helped these young families survive. Besides providing food and wisdom about how to build structures that could keep them safe in the winter, Squanto taught them how to fish, how to prepare eel and other strange sea creatures they harvested, and how to farm.
This act of friendship was the origin of our revered holiday of Thanksgiving. The Virginia Colony established the tradition of holding a day of collective prayers of thanksgiving, and that tradition continues today. Except it is not just a day of thanksgiving for the kindness and generosity of Squanto to our forefathers. We take advantage of this day of reverence and thanksgiving to be grateful for all the good things that God has blessed us with.
The foods we use to celebrate Thanksgiving were ones that the pilgrim travelers found native to this country and the foods that, with the help of Native American teachers, they learned to capture, harvest and prepare to feed their families and prosper in their new home. Turkey was a game foul that was in ample supply to the pilgrims once Squanto showed them how to hurt the bird with reliable success.
The vegetables we love to have on our traditional menus also had their origins in the early lives of the pilgrims. Potatoes, cranberries, sweet potatoes, green beans and all the rest were vegetables that the pilgrims had to learn to harvest, farm and prepare from natives of the land. So in many ways, our modern holiday, despite the dominance of football games and the upcoming Christmas holiday, retains the atmosphere of those early celebrations.
And the meaning of the holiday, despite commercialization, has been retained. We have much to be thankful for. For most of us, it is a time to gather family and friends near and be thankful for our health, for our jobs, and for our loved ones. For one, I’m thankful for you, kind reader, and your support of Carma’s Cookery. These are things truly worthy of giving thanks for.