Thanksgiving Day Celebrates Harvest Bounty
As economic worries continue to dominate the national, state and local news, millions of Americans will still celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday and for an estimated 90 percent of American families, turkey will be the centerpiece of the annual feast.
In spite of high unemployment rates, numerous layoffs, bailouts and buyouts and a continuing fluctuation of oil, and gas prices from moderately high to very high, on Thursday, families will find that they still have the same things to be thankful for as the Pilgrims did in 1621 after landing at Plymouth Rock.
Their harvest festival was celebrated by the Pilgrims, to thank God for saving their lives and guiding them through their struggles through their journey in the Mayflower and the following years of drought at Plymouth. After the rain that marked the end of the drought and revived the crop of corn and other fruits, they decided to celebrate the day with their neighbors. They didn't assemble to be thankful for their riches or for their bounty of food, but instead they were thankful for their lives and for arrival in America.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, pumpkin pie, cornbread, roasted turkey and all the Thanksgiving paraphernalia that we see on our Thanksgiving table do not owe their roots to the original Thanksgiving meal of the Pilgrims. According to records of the first harvest festival, their menu consisted largely of many different types of meat such as cod, eel, lobster, fowls, venison, rabbit and chicken. However, the common mentality of the 17th century did not call for much use of the vegetables in the preparations. Moreover, many vegetables would not have been available, according to the time of the year when the feasts were held, to the colonists. Since there were no ovens, there were no cakes, breads and pies. Sugar that pilgrims had brought with them on the Mayflower was also at its end, so there were no sweets, too. Though the food was rich and would have been considered unhealthy by today's standards, pilgrims were hardworking people and were quite active.
The 1621 celebration at Plymouth Colony was considered to be a harvest festival, while the first actual Thanksgiving celebration was not celebrated until late July of 1623. It was not until the 1860s that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November, perhaps to commemorate anchoring of the Mayflower at Cape Cod on November 21, 1621. President Franklin D. Roosevelt specifically mentioned that the date for Thanksgiving was set to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939.
Although the Pilgrims would not have had roast turkey (there were no ovens), accounts of their menu show that the meal likely did include lobster, rabbit, chicken, squash, beans, chestnuts, hickory nuts, onions, leeks, dried fruits, maple syrup and honey, radishes, cabbage, carrots, eggs, and maybe goat cheese.
Today, however, it is estimated that in addition to the 90 percent of households that eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day, another 50 percent also serve turkey on Christmas Day. "At Thanksgiving this year, it is estimated that some 46 million turkeys will be eaten on Thanksgiving Day, about the same as in previous years," said Sherrie Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation.
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates a Thanksgiving meal for the average gathering of 10 will cost $44.61 this year, up 5.5 percent from last year. That includes a 9-cent-a-pound increase for turkey, the group said this week, noting that the cost of the meal was still less than the same meal 20 years ago, when stripping out inflation.
However, the meat-producing industry in the United States, like most industries at this time, has been struggling to make a profit. Too much meat on the market, high prices for commodities and fuel, and weaker demand from restaurants have sliced into profits. According to business reports, Pilgrim's Pride Corp., the nation's largest chicken producer, is sagged by debt and using temporary credit lines to stay afloat. Some observers worry that Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat producer, may also have too much debt. Turkeys are likewise in trouble, but on a smaller scale since people eat more beef, chicken and pork overall. Turkey producers say prices edged up slightly, but not enough to recoup the costs of raising the "unpardoned" gobblers this year.
According to recent news reports, it is estimated that fewer people will travel this Thanksgiving, choosing instead to save money on gas or airfares by remaining at home. This would mark the first time in six years that travel rates have dropped. Delta Air Lines Inc. chief financial officer Edward Bastian told investors last month that "while near-term demand remains solid, we are keeping a very close eye on booking trends. Internationally, we are starting to see a little bit of demand softening." He said passenger bookings were down 2 percent to 4 percent for November and December from a year ago. Recent reports from the American Automobile Association (AAA) have echoed the same figures, but said also that recent falling gas prices may help to boost travel rates.
While travel may be down over the holidays this year, the area's hoteliers and innkeepers are seeing a boost in business for January. It is estimated that more than 4 million will attend the inauguration of President elect Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, in the nation's capital. All hotel rooms in the D.C. area have been booked and the spillover crowd has sought lodging in both the Hagerstown, Md., and Chambersburg, Pa., motels and hotels. Both areas report record numbers of reservations for the two-day period.
After the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony, in spite of the many hardships that still existed for the colonists, Edward Winslow wrote home to his friend in England, "And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
On Thursday, Americans will celebrate the storied tradition of giving thanks. All families will do it in different ways, from time-tested traditions of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade followed by the harvest feast and on to the usual NFL afternoon games. Some will cook and many more will eat. For the less fortunate, there will be open doors and opportunities to break bread with their neighbors. Our soldiers will also likely gather for turkey at tables a world away where we can only imagine their struggle and pray for their safety. Some will maneuver their families through crowded airports while others will gather at home. The dinner table talk will likely drift toward unemployment concerns, investment worries and the high prices of food and fuel. But one thing will remain as it did with the Pilgrims nearly 400 years ago in that someone at the table will offer a prayer of thanks