I was reminded recently that Thanksgiving is basically an American holiday tradition. There is a considerable amount of myth associated with the holiday, but most agree that in 1621 the Plymouth colonists celebrated an autumn harvest feast with the native Indians. The initial celebration was not immediately repeated. It seems it was the Continental Congress during the American Revolutionary War that suggested an annual feast of Thanksgiving. According to an Internet site, it was in 1817 when New York State adopted Thanksgiving as an annual custom and was joined by many other states during the 19th century, President Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday of November as the date for the national celebration.
The reminder was provided by a colleague during a discussion about this week’s schedule and how busy the week typically is for people in the newspaper industry. He said that it is not a very big deal with people of his ethnic background. I did not think to ask if he thought the sentiment was the same for both recent immigrants and with those that have lived in the U.S. a long time. It seems to me that the longer one assimilates the culture of where they live, the more they tend to adopt the customs. Turkeys and pumpkin pie may not have been the culinary custom for many of the immigrants who entered this country through Ellis Island, but the “melting pot” acculturation that has been the U.S. history soon enacted it’s influence.
As I pondered his comments I could not help but remember a Thanksgiving when our daughter was attending college. Her first college roommate and she could not have been more distant culturally. She was from Cyprus. A Muslim girl from the Middle East and a Protestant girl from Central Texas were able to find some common threads of character among the many differences in culture, background and experience. They became and remain very close friends. This particular Thanksgiving our daughter brought Ruby home with her to celebrate the holiday. It was a little ahead of schedule for our family but we decorated the Christmas Tree that weekend. It was interesting for me to listen to the exchange between the girls as they shared the background of the customs of their two cultures.
There is a considerable amount of discussion, both rational and irrational, surrounding the current issue of immigration in the country. I do not necessarily subscribe to the English-first or English-only argument, but I believe as a country and a culture it is important that citizens and residents learn the customs and mores of where they live. Thanksgiving provides an excellent opportunity to do so. A tradition of giving thanks for the bounty the new land provides was the motivation of the first immigrants as they shared the harvest with the native Indians. It is an American custom that has endured.
Locally there is an opportunity for everyone to share in the tradition. The Community Thanksgiving Feast has been a Brownwood event for the past 24 years. Started in 1983 by Harold Preston and Ronald Gray the Friends dinner has become an annual event for those who attend, as well as those who volunteer. The meal is free and is open to anyone and everyone. Voluntary contributions have been the mainstay of support for over two decades and they remain so today. The meal is served at the Mabee Center on the Howard University Campus or as they have for a number of years, meals will also be delivered.
Thanksgiving celebrations in many families have included a variety of different activities that surround the traditional feast, and in many regards have added to the tradition. For many families in the U.S., Thursday’s dinner will be scheduled around the football games being televised. The number may be higher this year locally given the current success of the Cowboys. Other families will be juggling family and friends around a mid-day meal to allow the deer hunters to be in the field early and late in the day.
However one chooses to celebrate, a day of thanksgiving is appropriate — it is also American.
Robert Brincefield is publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.