While everyone associates the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, that is not historically correct. Several thanksgiving celebrations were held by immigrants prior to that event. The first recorded Thanksgiving ceremony took place on September 8, 1565 when 600 Spanish settlers landed in what is now St. Augustine, Florida and immediately held a Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe delivery to the New World. The Mass was followed by a feast and celebration. A Spanish expedition party rested and conducted a mass at San Elizario (near El Paso, Texas) in celebration of thanksgiving on April 30, 1598. On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which is about 20 miles north of Jamestown, Virginia. The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God.
The modern Thanksgiving holiday is associated with a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation where the Pilgrims held a feast after a successful growing season. Sqauanto, a Native American who served as an interpreter for the English-speaking colony had taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn. The Pilgrims set aside a day to celebrate immediately after their first harvest. The Thanksgiving feast lasted three days and provided enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans. It consisted of fowl, venison, fish, lobster, claims, berries, fruit, pumpkin, squash and turkey.
Since that time, a Thanksgiving Day has been proclaimed and celebrated periodically throughout our nationhood. George Washington, leader of the revolutionary forces in the Revolutionary War proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December of 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga. On October 3, 1789, as President, he proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of American. He again proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795. President John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. In the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. President Lincoln’s successors followed his example of annually declaring the final Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving until Franklin Roosevelt broke tradition. In 1939, he pushed it back a week in order to expand the shopping season. The change was not well received and on December 26, 1941, he signed a bill that made the date of Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November as a matter of federal law.
Of course, no issue regarding immigrants would be complete without the anti-immigrationists contribution. Since 1970, the United American Indians of New England, a protest group led by Frank “Wamsutta” James has led a National Day of Mourning protest on Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. They claim that the United States and European settlers fabricated the Thanksgiving story.
Regardless of where the immigrants came from and no matter when they arrived, they shared something in common with each other and with those who come to our shores today. They all wanted a better life for themselves and their families. They were also willing to work hard to get that better life. And, they were profoundly grateful to the country that gave them the opportunity for betterment. That is all still true.
It is also still true that the country that benefitted so much from the early immigrants continues to benefit from those who come to our shores today. They bring energy and skill that enrich the lives of those with whom they come in contact. They start businesses and create jobs. They provide wonderful examples of family devotion by the sacrifices they make to unite their families here and support their loved ones back home.
At Reeves & Associates, we understand how important these families are. We recognize how much America owes to each person who has brought their unique contribution to this country. And we continue to strive to obtain justice and fairness for them.
Since 1947, each year for Thanksgiving the President of the United States has pardoned a live turkey to allow it to live out its days in peace. Surely a country that has compassion for its turkeys can show compassion for its people. There is a push to have the “Lame Duck” Congress pass the long-awaited Dream Act. Should they succeed, thousands of young people who have spent most of their lives here would be able to step out of the shadows and obtain lawful status. Now that would truly be something to be thankful for!