A celebration for, and about, our blessings

Published 5:59 pm Friday, November 18, 2011

If Ben Franklin had his way, this Thursday, we would be baking the national bird for Thanksgiving.

When the founding fathers in 1777 were ruminating over important legislative decisions such as what to select as the national bird, Ben Franklin suggested the turkey.

Today, non-flying and much larger domestic turkeys garnish our Thanksgiving and Christmas tables. Franklin was suggesting the wild turkey, native to North America.

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Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, and today, grocery store freezers offer a variety of turkey selections for the big day’s Thanksgiving meal.

Ancestor to the domestic turkey we serve today, the bird was a shipboard traveler on the Mayflower, along with the Pilgrims, who landed in Plymouth in 1601.

Our elementary school history lessons tell us that it was the Pilgrims of Plymouth, Mass., who began this event in 1602, described as the first Thanksgiving, offering a groaning table of harvested foods, dining with their new found friends, the Wampanog Indians.

They gave heavenly thanks for the rich harvest bestowed upon them in their first year in the new land, after suffering a devastating first winter that wiped out half their new colony’s population. It is believed their first Thanksgiving menu consisted of turkey, venison, wild fowl, rabbit, India corn, Dutch cheese, wild grapes, lobster, cod, melons and pumpkin. The feast lasted three days.

For this truly American national holiday, its historic purpose is for us to pause and give thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us.

We pause to give personal thanks for our blessings of good fortune, however small or bountiful. It’s a day of blessings among family and friends, to live in a caring community, to have guaranteed personal freedoms — freedoms that allow us to change the direction of our governments without violence or bloodshed.

This Thanksgiving there will be about 45 million turkeys purchased, fattened and ready for market during the last five months. Yes, poor domestic turkey, its life span is short, only five months.

It’s the meal too. We plan the meal.

It also may be one of those events that we cook something ourselves instead of buying prepared dishes — something to pop into the microwave, or a quick thaw from the freezer, or a take-out.

Magazines and books feature new directions and dishes for “The Meal.” There are TV chefs and cooks, all tuned into “The Meal” with suggestions on how you can make it special. And, there are those who shy from the home kitchen on this day, preferring to dine out.

One of the most popular places to dine out on Thanksgiving Day is Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass. Reservations are a must, well in advance. It includes “The Meal,” plus a daylong schedule of holiday events.

Historically, the Continental Congress recognized a need for a day of Thanksgiving to give thanks for the blessings the young nation was experiencing. In 1789, President Washington signed a proclamation from Congress honoring a day of Thanksgiving, but it was President Lincoln who officially made it a national holiday, the fourth Thursday of November.

Lincoln, it was said, was not a particularly religious man until he came to Gettysburg, walked the scarred and blood-stained battlefield, and anguished over the wasteful human carnage. In his proclamation establishing the Thanksgiving national holiday, Lincoln rendered “to His care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners of sufferers, and of the lamentable civil strife.”

He implored the “mighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”

As you gather on Thursday with family and friends, in your home or in your favorite eatery, it matters not the majesty of the “The Meal.” It is a day of thanks, a gathering and observation of blessings, no matter how large or insignificant. No matter how you may be hurting, find something to bless. No matter the depths of your despair, there remains someone whose despair transcends.

May His mighty Hand embrace your Thanksgiving blessings and give you peace.

Jim Smith writes a weekly column for The Post-Searchlight. Send comments to his email: bainbooknook@yahoo.com or 96oldtruck@gmail.com