Happy Thanksgiving!

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‘Thanksgiving’ is based upon the story of the Pilgrims and their thankful community feast at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The Pilgrims who set sail from Plymouth (England) on a ship called the Mayflower, on September 6, 1620 were, in fact, fortune hunters bound for the resourceful ‘New World’. The Mayflower was a small ship crowded with men, women and children and also, of course, the sailors working on the ship. Aboard were passengers comprising the ‘Separatists’, who called themselves the “Saints”, and others …. whom the ‘Separatists’ called the “Strangers”.

After land was sighted in November, following 66 days of a lethal voyage, a meeting was held and an agreement of truce was worked out. It was called the ‘Mayflower Compact’ and the agreement guaranteed equality amongst the members of the two groups. They merged together to be recognized as the “Pilgrims” and elected John Carver as their first Governor.

Although the Pilgrims first sighted land off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, they did not actually settle until they arrived at a place called Plymouth. It was Captain John Smith who named the place after the English port-city in 1614 and who had been settled there for over five years. Thus, it was here that the Pilgrims finally decided to settle as Plymouth offered an excellent harbor and plenty of resources. An added bonus was that the local Indians were also non-hostile.

However, their happiness was very short-lived because they were ill-equipped to face the winter on this estranged place and were ravaged thoroughly!

As luck would have it they were somehow saved by a group of local native Americans who befriended them and helped them with food. Soon the natives had taught the settlers the technique to enable the cultivation of corn and how to grow and store (for hard days) the native vegetables. By the next winter they had raised enough crops to keep them alive. The winter came and passed by without much harm. The settlers knew they had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate.

They celebrated it with a grand community feast wherein the friendly native Americans were also invited. It was very similar to the Harvest Feast, the Pilgrims used to have in England. The new recipes entailed “corn” (wheat as the Pilgrims called it), Indian corn, barley, pumpkins and peas, “fowl” …. especially “waterfowl” ….. deer, fish and yes of course, the wild “Turkey”.

However, the third year was real bad when the corn got damaged and Pilgrim Governor William Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer and very soon ….. the rains followed! To celebrate, on November 29th of that year, it was proclaimed a day of ‘Thanksgiving’. This date is believed to be the real beginning of the present ‘Thanksgiving Day’.

Today ‘Thanksgiving Day’ is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November …… this date was set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 and approved by Congress in 1941. Earlier it was the last Thursday in November as was designated by the former President Abraham Lincoln. However, sometimes the last Thursday would turn out to be the fifth Thursday of the month and that falls too close to Christmas! That left businesses even less than a month between to cope with these two big festivals and hence the change.

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