The Origins of Thanksgiving

Our modern holidays are variations of past celebrations that are formed to fit our modern day belief. Many look into the past from the little we think we know and try to convince themselves that the days they celebrate with meaning – Christmas (Saturnalia) or Yule, Halloween (Sowen), Easter (Ostara) or Imbolic, Valentines Day (Lupercalia), etc, etc – are only revamped versions of more ancient celebrations with completely different meanings than we give them today. Where as the ancients may have seen Saturnalia/Christmas as a time to worship nature in relation to astronomical alignments, christians see it as their mythical sun-god’s birthday. This association and relationship was built by emperors and the church who wanted to mainly merge belief systems together.

One of the most common themes you can observe through most holidays is that of the feast. Romans would feast during the winter months celebrating Saturn-alia, Saturn the god of agriculture whom would bring back the planet to life after the death it suffers in the winter; celts would feast during Sowen to celebrate the New Year on November 1st, modern Halloween, and many celebrate Easter as the resurrection of the ‘Christ’ while Easter, coming from the goddess name Eostre, is a day of rebirth, which in fact is why Jesus is said to have been resurrected during this time. The three days ceremony is also important but is more rooted in the ancient mystery schools and secret initiation creaminess Jesus or Joshua was a part of.

The year is broken into sections as part of a wheel, like the Zodiac – animal wheel. As the wheel turns and we experience a changing of the four seasons from Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn.

Each of these four parts of the wheel are then broken down further into additional celebrations which split the months between the Equinoxes, where the sun crosses the celestial equator and the length of day and night become close to equal, and Solstices, where the Sun is at it’s greatest distance from the celestial equator. These include Yule (feast on the Winter Solstice) (December 21st that marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.), Imbolic (the beginning of Spring), Ostara (Spring Equinox), Beltaine (Halfway point between the spring equinox & Summer Solstice) (June 21st marks the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.), Litha (Mid-Point of Summer or the Summer Solstice), Lammas (festival and beginning of the wheat harvest where the first bread would be made), Mabon (Autumnal equinox), Samhain (End of the Harvest season and the beginning of the death of the planet during the winter months).

wheel

During the time of our ancestors when everyday people had to farm their own food and a time when grocery stores were not on every corner, scarcity was common for food and fear was likely common, and therefore many superstitions sat in. When there was a bountiful harvest it led to large feasts and celebrations to a giving of ”thanks.”

The first harvest at Plymouth Rock was completed in 1621. It was during this time that Governor William Bradford (1590-1657) dedicated this as a special day of prayers and giving Thanks. That fall, Plymouth colonists’ and the local Wampanoag Indian tribe feasted for three days to celebrate their first “successful harvest.” Some say that the harvest celebration lasted longer, with colonists going from house to house throughout the colony within a weeklong celebration of the harvest.

However, like most stories of our past we are told what “happened” rather than “what probably happened” based upon documentation and oral traditions. Rather, most prefer a fanciful story that makes them feel good and makes them feel as if their ancestors were of the upmost character. We try to relate ourselves and our modern condition to that of the condition of hundreds of years ago. Even with documents, evidence, stories, traditions, etc. It is difficult to tell exactly how our history unfolded because of arrogance and ego, special interests, lies, misinterpretations, ignorance, mistranslations, and down right ignorance.

This one instance of giving Thanks in 1621 was probably the first and last time that anyone celebrated what we would consider to be our modern Thanksgiving for years to come. It wasn’t until around 1777 that the first nationwide celebration of giving Thanks actually was observed. But this day wasn’t to necessarily to celebrate the harvest as much as it was to celebrate the defeat of the British during the battle of Saratoga. September 19 and October 17th, 1777.

The belief that the Puritans – a person who is strict in moral or religious matters – started Thanksgiving, as we know it, isn’t entirely true. Our modern-day view and celebration of Thanksgiving has little to do with Native Americans and more to do with victories during the Revolutionary War. The true Thanks were to be given during the victory of battle, not bountiful food.

The first official American Thanksgiving was celebrated by the 13 colonies in order to honor the victory at the battle of Saratoga. Congress, in response to the surrender of British General Burgoyne, declared December 18th, 1777 as a national day for “solemn Thanksgiving and praise,” in recognition of the military success at Saratoga. It was the nations first official observance of a holiday with the name Thanksgiving.

The very first national day of Thanksgiving was held in 1789, when President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26 to be “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,” to especially give thanks for the opportunity to form a new nation and the establishment of a new constitution.

Yet even after a national day of Thanksgiving was declared in 1789, Thanksgiving was still not an annual celebration.

On October 3rd, 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared a “General Blessing” holiday to be on the last Thursday in November. This became one of the official Thanksgivings, as we know it today.

Abraham Lincoln made this declaration through a proclamation:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Later, President FDR wanted to make this day a federal holiday. He wanted to move up the date of celebration so that it would allow a longer Christmas shopping season and hopefully spur economic growth.

Regardless of the origins of our modern day celebration of Thanksgiving, few of us actually do anything to take part in the actual harvest. Most are ignorant, uninformed and have no real inclination into our pats. Even fewer of us have any real concept of what we are actually celebrating, be it Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the sometimes negatively ritualistic Samhain or Witches New Year; what most call Halloween. It is absolutely irrelevant as to what the true origins of Thanksgiving really are; whether it became such because of pilgrims and Indians, harvests, or because of military campaigns. The truth is that most of us don’t appreciate or give thanks for anything we have, little alone for the food we eat. . We claim to be righteous and thankful one day out of the year and hope that this carries over to the other three hundred and sixty four days, and to the people we have screwed over during that time. Giving Thanks for one day, not meaning it and continue to take for granted what you have the rest of the year is doing in vein, that of which you claim to participate in the first place. If you wish to be Thankful, do it everyday out of the year, make your own traditions, and understand what you are Thankful for and why you are celebrating, or giving thanks.

What was on the Menu at Plymouth in 1621

When the Pilgrims arrived in the 1620s, they were not fully prepared for the harsh winter than awaited them.

During the first meal of Thanks, which was anywhere from a three-day to a weeklong festival, the food that was consumed wasn’t necessarily what we expect to be on the table at our modern day Thanksgiving.

Food

Seafood like eel, lobster, fish, clams, and other shellfish, etc. were likely abundant at the first Thanksgiving. Some other meat like venison, which would have been roasted over an open fire, was most likely contributed by the Native Americans. Colonists also ate geese and ducks, which were much more plentiful. Turkey was present, but the term turkey was also used as a term to mean fowl in general. According to the National Museum of the American Indian’s website, some of this fowl was probably made into pies with cornmeal crusts.

Since the first Thanksgiving was essentially a celebration of the successful harvest, many fruits and vegetables were consumed. Fruits included currants, plums and dried fruit. There also would have been boiled pumpkin and native vegetables. It is believed that the Indians showed the pilgrims how to grow corn, so corn was used in such things as a flat corn bead, corn pudding and corn mush. Any bread that was eaten would likely have been sourdough or Cheate Bread – A Medieval English term meaning; whole wheat bread with the coarse bran removed.

Beverages

Water may have been served, but it’s most likely beer was the drink of choice for everyone – even the children. Despite the pilgrims’ modern image as being puritan, beer was their main drink, for celebrations and for every day. Initially, pilgrims made their beer from maize – corn beer – and later they added ingredients like molasses, pine and sassafras.

Certain things we associate with Thanksgiving today were not present at the first Thanksgiving. Most of the sugar and flour supply was gone, so there were no pastries, breads, pies or desserts of any kind. There were no potatoes or sweet potatoes, either, and the cranberry also was not present.

The Cornucopia

The cornucopia is strongly associated with the harvest festival and our decorations during the fall. It symbolizes food, abundance, and prosperity, all of which are associated with the bases of Thanksgiving.The cornucopia literally means “horn of plenty.” The horn possibly could be that of a goat, which the infant Zeus used to drink from. In the story of  “Zeus’ childhood” it is told that he was sent away to a cave for safekeeping to prevent his father Cronus from eating him. This is similar to the Roman story of Saturn, where Saturn’s son Jupiter, Zeus in Greek, was foretold to overthrow his father. Sometimes it is said that a goat named Amalthea nursed him and sometimes a nymph of the same name who fed him on goat’s milk fostered that he.

There are various versions of the evolution of the cornucopia from a horn sitting on the head of the nurturing goat. One is that the goat tore it off herself to present it to Zeus; another that Zeus tore it off and gave it back to the Amalthea-goat promising her abundance. Another version is that it came from a river god’s head.

The cornucopia is most frequently associated with the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, but is also associated with other gods, including the aspect of the Underworld god that is the god of wealth, Pluto since the horn symbolizes abundance.

The Roman goddess of luck and fortune, Fortuna, was often depicted carrying a cornucopia and became linked with her image.Lady Fortuna represented how life was subject to the whim of chance, good or ill. In ancient Roman times Fortuna was sought by many seeking good fortune and to avoid bad luck. It was because of this reason that the goddess Fortuna has acquired our modern interpretation as Lady Luck.

Other Festivals

The concept of a harvest festival was not established because of the original settlers in Plymouth, the victories at Saratoga, or for any other reason. Harvest festivals and celebrations including feasts are as old as humanity.

Native American harvest festivals traditionally take place in the late summer or fall. They are a time to offer thanks to the food gods for a successful growing season and for the sustenance to get through the winter. These ceremonies are a vital part of the Native American culture and are often filled with singing, dancing, rituals, and prayer.

Green Corn Festival

The Green Corn Festival is celebrated by the Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Yuchi, and Iroquois tribes during the first full moon after the corn crops have matured. This celebration of thanksgiving does not have a set date. The date is decided by the corn as it grows, but normally occurs in July or August. The term “Green Corn” refers to ripe, edible corn. The Native Americans who celebrate the Green Corn Festival are traditionally Woodland tribes, as these are the tribes who depended of corn for survival.

Great New Moon Ceremony

The Cherokee celebrate the first October new moon with feasts to celebrate the harvest. Cherokee tradition holds that the world was created during the autumn, so this is an important celebration. Families bring part of their harvest to share, and dances and purification rituals are held during the celebration. The Great New Moon Ceremony is a time of thanksgiving.

Iroquois Harvest Festival

The Iroquois traditionally hold a harvest festival in October; organized by the tribe’swomen. Dances and songs are performed to the food spirits and a sweet corn soup is shared. A speaker discusses the good luck of the concluded growing season, and prayers of thanksgiving are said. The Iroquois calendar is passed from the women to the men at this time, because the next ceremony involves hunting, a traditionally male activity.

Conclusion

The point of this article is to place together all of the appropriate stories relating to the real reason we have a holiday called Thanksgiving. Nothing is ever as it seems on the surface. As stated before harvest festivals and celebrations including feasts are as old as humanity. From the harvest of the Celtic New Year – Halloween, to Saturnalia – Christmas, to the ancient ritual of “the killing of the King.”  All of these include something do with harvests, festivals, feasts, celebrations, gods, and mainly our misunderstanding. The idea of a feast, in general, is something that is imbedded in all parts of society and cultures, from feasts during holidays to the last supper of Jesus and his disciples to the last supper of Mithras and his disciples. They have become a part of our spiritual evolution.

However, I’d like to restate what I mentioned at the beginning of this article:

It is absolutely irrelevant as to what the true origins of Thanksgiving really are; whether it became such because of pilgrims and Indians, harvests, or because of military campaigns. The truth is that most of us don’t appreciate or give thanks for anything we have, little alone for the food we eat. We claim to be righteous and thankful one day out of the year and hope that this carries over to the other three hundred and sixty four days, and to the people we have screwed over during that time. Giving Thanks for one day, not meaning it and continue to take for granted what you have the rest of the year is doing in vein, that of which you claim to participate in the first place. If you wish to be Thankful, do it everyday out of the year, make your own traditions, and understand what you are Thankful for and why you are celebrating, or giving thanks.

And even if we do give Thanks for what we have, we rarely see the world around us for what it is. We pave over the land with roads and buildings and then place artificial grasses and trees in certain areas, so that we feel like we really are not destroying that in which truly nourishes us. You may call her Mother Earth, the Goddess, or one of her many cultural names. She is nature, what some would call god, and she is where should direct our THANKS for the GIVING we receive from her.

Here is a Thanksgiving address from the Iroquiois Indian Chief Jake Swamp:

“Ohenton Kariwahtekwen” – GREETINGS TO THE NATURAL WORLD

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.  We give thanks for our family,

friends, and fellow human beings…

Now our minds are one.

THE EARTH MOTHER

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

THE WATERS

We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms-waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.

Now our minds are one.

THE FISH

We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

THE PLANTS

Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come.

Now our minds are one.

THE FOOD PLANTS

With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.

Now our minds are one.

THE MEDICINE HERBS

Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.

Now our minds are one.

THE ANIMALS

We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.

Now our minds are one. 

THE TREES

We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.

Now our minds are one.

THE BIRDS

We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds-from the smallest to the largest-we send our joyful greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

THE FOUR WINDS

We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.

Now our minds are one 

THE THUNDERERS

Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.

Now our minds are one.

THE SUN

We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.

Now our minds are one.

GRANDMOTHER MOON

We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.

Now our minds are one.

THE STARS

We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars.

Now our minds are one.

THE ENLIGHTENED TEACHERS

We gather our minds to greet and thank the  Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers.

Now our minds are one.

THE CREATOR

Now we turn our thoughts to the creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.

Now our minds are one.

CLOSING WORDS……….

We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way. Now our minds are one. WE GIVE THANKS FOR YOU…

~Chief Jake Swamp

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