Today, as we celebrate an observance that dates back 400 years, we have much for which to be thankful.
We live in a nation that has wondrous bounty. That is evident in the roughly 700 million pounds of turkey that are prepared each Thanksgiving. And the approximately 250 million pounds of potatoes. And the approximately 50 million pies.
As we are reminded each Thanksgiving, as free Americans we have the right to be gluttonous. And many of us eagerly embrace this right.
The origins of a Thanksgiving feast are ingrained in American lore. In October 1621, Pilgrims who had arrived from Europe in what is now Massachusetts celebrated their first harvest with local Native Americans.
According to Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Mass., Edward Winslow wrote, in the spelling of the time: “And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time withus, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.”
We think that means they were thankful for having plenty to eat.
Yet while Thanksgiving traditions date to the arrival of European settlers on this continent, official observations were intermittent until the mid-1800s. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Lincoln called on the American people to “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience … fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation …”
In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law making Thanksgiving an annual federal holiday in Washington, D.C., and in 1885 Congress made it a holiday for federal workers throughout the country.
Those early official holidays were observed on the final Thursday of November. In 1942, Thanksgiving was moved to the fourth week of the month, landing it on whichever Thursday falls between Nov. 22 and Nov. 28. This followed long-term pressure from retailers, who wanted to begin the Christmas shopping season as early as possible.
Regardless of the origins and the vagaries of Thanksgiving, and despite the tension and discord of modern times, today calls for calm reflection and celebration. As mentioned, we have much for which to be thankful in our nation.
We live in a land of wondrous natural beauty, a fact that is particularly evident in the Northwest.
We live in an age when vaccines for previously unknown diseases can be quickly developed, helping to slow the spread of threatening viruses.
We live in a nation that allows and celebrates free and fair elections, providing institutional protections against those who seek to undermine representative democracy.
We live at a time when jobs are plentiful, even amid economic chaos and uncertainty caused by a pandemic and global events.
We live in a state that has a strong economy, encourages innovation, supports a robust structure for personal prosperity, and still makes great efforts to provide for our neighbors in need and protect individual rights.
And we live in a county that is growing because it is a desirable place to live, with a bounty of amenities and opportunities.
Indeed, there is a reason today is called Thanksgiving rather than Gluttony Day. The meaning of the holiday can be found in our blessings; the meal is just a bonus.