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A Different Perspective: Our Thanksgiving heritage — let’s not forget

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 5th, 2013

Thanksgiving has arrived and references abound to “Turkey Day.” While real turkeys would probably like to avoid the excessive attention they receive during this season, newscasters never let us forget for a moment that Thanksgiving is a national day of consumption, culminating in “Black Friday,” now moved up to Thanksgiving evening for early Christmas shopping and enhanced retail profits.

Note to world: Thanksgiving isn’t about turkeys or “Black Friday” shopping. The reference to “turkey day” or early shopping affects my ire to the same degree as the grocery clerk calling me “dude” at the checkout stand.

President Lincoln was the first president to make Thanksgiving a major national holiday, although it obviously has much deeper roots. Earlier Americans didn’t see the need to designate a special national day to “give thanks” as being thankful daily to an almighty God was ingrained in their DNA. The idea that we would need to set aside a special day to give thanks for living in a bountiful land would be incomprehensible to the yeoman farmers of early America, vulnerable as they were to every act of nature. An understanding of nature and its creator was as important as fealty to their religious faith which dominated their lives and relationships.

The first Pilgrim settlers, originally religious Separatists from the Church of England, arrived in the late autumn of 1620 in Massachusetts, after enduring vicious religious persecution at the hand of King James of England. They fled both the King and his Church of England first to Holland, at great peril and secrecy, until James found them out and forced them to flee again.

The Separatists chartered two vessels, the Mayflower and the Speedwell and attempted to depart England in July. They were thwarted by unfavorable winds, currents, leaking and severely damaged ships and forced to return to England for repairs.

Depleting most of their funds, they finally set sail again in September, failed again and set sail once more, not arriving at Plymouth on Cape Cod until November 10th. Plagued by unseaworthy craft, it wasn’t until December that they were able to begin exploring Cape Cod. I’ve lived in New England; cold takes on a different meaning in its harsh winters.

The year 1620 was in the middle of the “Mini-Ice Age,” a 650-year period of extreme cold, long winters and severe weather. From January to March 24, half of the Pilgrim company died of cold, starvation and disease. At one point, no more than three or four persons were well enough to care for the sick and dying.

The following year, local Native Americans took pity upon the newcomers, showed them how to fish, plant corn and hunt in the new land. They shared a great feast together, our first “Thanksgiving” and more than 50 years of peace.

Waves of newcomers, fortune-hunters and a new King interested in bringing the Separatists under his control and imposing the dictates of the Church of England destroyed the compact created between the first Pilgrims and their native-American hosts.

Thanksgiving would not be officially celebrated again for another hundred years, during the Revolution and later still, during the Civil War when President Lincoln made it a national holiday. But then, for the faithful, every day should be a day of Thanksgiving.

Al Fonzi is a retired Army Lt. Colonel and career intelligence officer with more than 30 years of service. He is a self-described conservative and active in several political organizations. Fonzi first moved to Atascadero in 1972.

For the complete article see the 11-21-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-21-2012 paper.

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