November has dawned gray and frosted. Deer, brown now in their winter coats, keep to the edge of the frosty hayfield, or race across it not daring to linger. The colorful leaves that were the glory of October now lie dead and brown. Bare black branches etch their silhouettes against the cold gray morning sky.
One such November morning though, dawns with a feeling like no other in this month. Families come together from all parts of the country like some ancient gathering of the clans. Ovens bulge with turkey, savory stuffing and pumpkin pie. We prepare to celebrate a national holiday that is of ancient Pagan origin and has its’ roots in England.
To celebrate their first harvest, the Pilgrims in 1621 held what was then called a Harvest Home. The original Harvest Home celebrated in England began at the first harvest and continued through the entire harvest season until the last crop was in. It featured feasting and drinking to the point that it sometimes interfered with the work of the harvest. By the late sixteenth century it had become the custom to not begin a celebration until the harvest was complete and the crops were safely in storage.
It is interesting to note that the deeply religious Pilgrims marked this first Thanksgiving not with prayer, but with feasting, celebrations, games and contests. This is according to the only firsthand account, a letter sent to family in England from Edward Winslow. It was not until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November a day of Thanksgiving, that the holiday took on a religious significance.
As we gather around the dinner table with family and friends this Thanksgiving and bow our heads in silent prayer, it would be appropriate that we recall the Pagan origins of this traditional American holiday brought to these shores by the Pilgrims.