This will appear in the Farmerville Gazette, Farmerville, Louisiana the week of 11/20/2016

Last September following Labor Day and right after school began I walked into the Walmart store in Monroe and observed workers putting together the Christmas tree display.  The forest of seasonal conifers was taking shape.  Temperature outside was in the mid-80s and it felt like anything but Christmas.  I thought how Thanksgiving was swept over by different merchants in the attempt to lead the market and beat the competition in Christmas sales.  Unfortunately, this has watered down the true reason that we have the Christmas holiday and has provided a pretext to take religion out of the holiday.

This year we flew through Halloween and the retailers marketing strategy for Christmas has taken on an even greater frenzy.  Thanksgiving use to be the beginning of Christmas season. The Macy’s parade would end with Santa Clause appearing in his sled and the holiday was off and running.  Then Black Friday appeared and a new experience was introduced into the Christmas culture in America.  This year we witness numerous “pre-black Friday sales”.  If we are not careful the Christmas season will begin on January 1st and continue from there.  Too bad that the real meaning of Christmas could not follow that schedule.

With Thanksgiving on top of us and at a time that use to be filled with children bringing home from school pictures of pumpkins, turkeys and pilgrims while Thanksgiving plays were being held at schools; let’s revisit the beginning of the holiday that has been near and dear to our American culture.

It is quite apparent why a day to give thanks was performed so many years ago by a religious sect known as the Pilgrims.  Much of what we have learned of the happenings that led to the Thanksgiving day have been glossed over and the deplorable conditions the Pilgrims faced were even more horrific than what we were taught.

After years of religious persecution in England, an attempt to live in religious peace in Holland and returning to England , a group of Pilgrims plus some adventurers looking for wealth in the new world left England on a small wooden vessel.  The group totaled 102 and for 66 long days the Pilgrims traveled across the Atlantic and landed at a point farther north than they originally planned to land.  They remained on the ship for another month and then sailed south across Massachusetts Bay and landed on what is now known as Plymouth Rock to establish a colony.

The first year the majority of the Pilgims remained on the ship during the brutal winter.  Scurvy, a disease from lack of vitamin C; exposure to a brutal winter and contagious diseases took their toll and only half the Pilgrims were alive in the spring of the first year.  Still they remained to build their colony and worship their God.  When the Pilgrims moved ashore they were amazed when an Indian walked into their camp and spoke English.  Several days later the Indian returned with another Indian named Squanto.  This was probably the one single reason that the Pilgrims survived and if anyone should have turned his back on the plight of the Pilgrims it would have been Squanto.

Squanto had been kidnapped by an English ship captain and was sold into slavery.  He was taken to England, a foreign land that he did not understand nor had ever envisioned.  Eventually he escaped to London and became a part of an expedition to the new world and thus returned home.  The Pilgrims were on their last legs when Squanto arrived.  He taught them to grow corn, catch fish in the rivers, extract maple sap for syrup and what poisonous plants to avoid.  He also arranged a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the local Wampanoag tribe.  One of the only treaties between the Indians and settlers in American history to remain in force and honored by the settlers.

After the first corn crop was harvested,  Governor William Bradford called for a feast to celebrate the occasion.  This has prompted us to refer to Thanksgiving festivities as the fall feast.  The Indians were invited and the celebration was held.  What is not realized is that among the cuisine was that  Lobster, Seal and Swan was on the menu.  With sugar dwindling, cakes and pastries were not available.

Thanksgiving became an official holiday in the middle of the Civil War in 1863.  Abraham Lincoln used this to proclaim, “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”  Franklin Roosevelt moved the date forward by one week to try and help with retail sales during the Great Depression.  Economics begins to play a part in our holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone; we have a lot to be grateful for in this great nation.  There are definitely problems but they pale in comparison to our many blessings.

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