"I am grateful for what I am and have. My Thanksgiving is perpetual." - Henry David Thoreau.
Most of us remember learning about the first Thanksgiving in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans. All joined together to conciliate over a table piled with food. Indeed, the turkey must have been on the table, too, right?
Contrary to popular belief, there's no evidence that turkey was present at the first Thanksgiving feast! The wild turkeys prevalent in Massachusetts at the time were tricky to catch and not very tasty.
So, how did this humble bird become an integral part of Thanksgiving?
According to Plimoth Plantation, a historic site in Massachusetts, most accounts of the first Thanksgiving—including one from Edward Winslow, an English leader who attended the first Thanksgiving—say that they ate fowl and venison!
It dates back to an American writer named Sarah Josepha Hale. Born in 1788 in New Hampshire, Sarah Hale was a popular editor and a trendsetter in fashion, cooking, and literature. She's the same woman who wrote the famous nursery rhyme: "Mary Had a Little Lamb!"
She's acclaimed to be the only reason Thanksgiving has a turkey at its center today, so much so that she's called the "Godmother of Thanksgiving."
Ms. Hale was infatuated with establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She often wrote about Thanksgiving's power to unify the nation, instill moral values, and predicate religious meanings.
For 17 years, Ms. Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday and wrote to five presidents, including Abraham Lincoln!
Her letter to Abraham Lincoln led to the creation of our nation's beloved holiday. And in 1863, the very same year Hale wrote the letter, Lincoln invited all Americans to celebrate the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving.
But, unfortunately for Hale, it wasn't until after her passing that the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt named Thanksgiving a legal holiday.
Why did Hale love the turkey so much? What's so special about it?" To her, the answer is simple: it's a symbol of America's great wealth and ability to care for and provide for its citizens. And the symbol of America's care for its people has continued to this day.
It's a mascot of unification, Thanksgiving, and our country.
Because of Turkey's role in Thanksgiving, we now associate the clucking bird with gratitude, generosity, family, and friendship.
And like Thanksgiving, Turkey brings us together to share in the contagious spirit of love and thankfulness.
So, this Thanksgiving or next time you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, take a moment to be grateful for Turkey—the humble bird that has come to represent so much.
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