By Gerry Fischer
It’s Thanksgiving, time! Time to give thanks for the harvest, our lives, health, and the blessings we enjoy. We must also not forget the pumpkin pies, turkey and dressing with all the trimmings, friends, family and those who aren’t faring as well as we.
We’re all familiar with the thanksgiving story where the pilgrims landed in Plymouth Massachusetts and the Indians helped them survive even bringing them food to augment their first harvest. In fact, the Indians were embarrassed by how ill prepared the colonists were for company. The chief sent his hunters out and they brought back deer, and turkeys as well as other wild game. Oysters and fish were caught or gathered and time was set aside to give thanks for what God provided. That first Thanksgiving lasted for a couple of weeks, and games were played and contests held. There was music and dancing, mostly by the Indians with their drums and flutes, but it was a gay affair enjoyed by all. Little by little each state and colony before them set a time to commemorate this holiday, until President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 recognized the holiday, to be formally written into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1870.
The holiday has changed over time, and was never as recognized in the rural areas as much as in the cities. In Urban areas the day often was a holiday with time off work to celebrate. The industrial revolution allowed for Sundays as a biblical day of rest, but after a while a five-day work week came into being and then additional days off for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and Christmas Eve, Good Friday and days like the 4th of July, Memorial Day, and others, but these were not celebrated on the farm as they were in the cities.
Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Goats, Swine, chickens and geese do not have days off. They eat every day, and it’s the farmers who feed them. To feed and water animals requires drawing the water, and carrying it to the animals or breaking ice in the ponds so cattle can drink. Hay has to be pitched into the mangers, corn has to be ground for the poultry and broadcast to them. The farm is not a place where everyone gets a day off work. So, Thanksgiving on a farm usually meant a little more festive meal, with maybe some deserts not all that common, like cake in an environment more usually seeing pies. Cornbread stuffing made with lots of sage, cranberries, pecan and pumpkin pies as well as fried fruit pies dusted with white sugar were common fare. There would be vegetables, maybe mashed potatoes instead of fried, sausage and bacon as well as chicken and turkeys would be on the table.
Visitors would usually pitch in with the chores so that after dinner the men could sit and smoke their pipes while the women visited and caught up on the news. There often times would be a fiddle or guitar around and some good old country music would be played. If Grandpa felt up to it, he might just “stomp up” a tune, by clogging.
In the city there would be a celebration more like what we see today, with some decorations, roast turkey and all the side dishes you would expect in a Norman Rockwell painting on the cover of a Saturday Evening Post magazine. No matter, either country or town, Thanksgiving was looked forward to and everyone ate leftovers for days later. Everywhere, a blessing was said thanking God for the bounteous food and blessings enjoyed by everyone. Happy Thanksgiving.
(See Part 2, next day where we learn more about blessings to give thanks.)