1. Thanksgiving, as a national holiday, came about to bring the country together.
Thanksgiving became a National Holiday in 1863 during the Civil War. A woman named Sarah Josepha Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln that a national Thanksgiving holiday would help heal a war-torn country. The Civil War literally tore families apart. Cousin fought against cousin, neighbor against neighbor, and brother against brother. President Lincoln wanted to bring the nation back together. He hoped a national holiday focused on a celebration of the harvest and expression of gratitude would have a universal appeal.
Today, Thanksgiving is a positive holiday that crosses religious lines and does not involve gifts. With or without football and Black Friday sales, it endures. Thanksgiving is perfect in its simplicity. We gather with family and friends, break bread, celebrate the harvest, and express our gratitude for our blessings.
2. The American story we all think we know isn’t how it really happened.
We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. – Abraham Lincoln, 1862
The picture we all have in our minds of a long table piled high with turkey and pumpkins with English colonists and Native Americans of the Wampanoag Tribe sitting side by side celebrating a bountiful harvest didn’t really happen that way. According to modern day historians we now know there was a harvest celebration in 1621. The colonists were pleased that they would go into their second winter in the colony with adequate food stored. Their first winter found them unprepared with little grain and in danger of starving. They solved their problem by stealing corn from the stores and graves of the Wampanoag.
The Wampanoag are a Native American people. They were a confederation of several tribes in the 17th century, their population numbered in the thousands. After the colonists came their numbers were diminished by disease and war. The first Thanksgiving/harvest celebration really went down like this. The English fired their guns in the air to celebrate their successful growing of Maize. The Wampanoag men came to see what was going on and settled into the woods to keep an eye on the situation.
What was being eaten during the three days of celebration that took place sometime between mid-September and early November 1621? Turkey, eel, lobster, wild onions, native nuts, squash, beans and of course the corn.
Today, the Wampanoag descendants, also known as the “People of the first light”, commemorate Thanksgiving in different ways. Some consider it a day of mourning given the effect rapid colonization and displacement had on their people. Others gather with their families but without any talk of pilgrims. Native people celebrate a number of thanksgivings throughout the year because giving thanks is a big part of the Wampanoag members’ spiritual life.
3. Thanksgiving is good for your mental health.
Psychologists tell us grateful people are happier. (Psychology Today) “Gratitude is a positive feeling that has healing benefits. Gratitude is the expression of appreciation for what one has. It is a recognition of value independent of monetary worth. Spontaneously generated from within, it is an affirmation of goodness and warmth.” You may want to read that again, it’s worth a second pass.
Some folks wake up every morning and they are just grateful. Grateful for another day, the sunrise, bird song, whatever they are presented with they are just naturally grateful. For others that warm feeling that is a biproduct of gratitude does not come naturally. It is something that they must work to achieve. Fortunately, anyone can improve their emotional health by consciously practicing gratitude.
Cultivating Gratitude begins with noticing the goodness in life. It is not about the stuff you have. It’s about the people. The family, friends, and the furry friends that you have around your real Thanksgiving table or your virtual Thanksgiving table. Connecting with these people is a good place to begin to grow your gratitude and happiness. Connecting is more than being in the presence of, it is talking to, and listening to, those close to you. It’s caring.
Consider putting Thanksgiving in your heart and carrying it with you for the rest of the year. Each day, consciously connect with someone. Get a journal and make a note of three things for which you are grateful. Do this each and every day. It will make your year happier.