The turkey’s in the oven, the pumpkin pie is ready to be sliced, and the television in the living room is ready for some football. Thanksgiving is here once again — a time when we can celebrate all that we’ve achieved over the past year, and the importance of family and close friends.
It’s commonly believed that our modern holiday traces back to 1621, when Plymouth pilgrims gathered with members of the Wampanoag tribe to celebrate the autumn harvest. But in reality, Thanksgiving celebrations of some sort date back much further than that.
In fact, the Smithsonian Institution pinpoints the first true Thanksgiving here led by non-natives on May 27, 1578, in what is now Newfoundland. That’s obviously not what is now the United States, but the Smithsonian also says that many historians believe there was a Thanksgiving feast in what is now Phippsburg, Maine, in 1607.
Although it was informally celebrated by a number of states and territories in the years after that, Thanksgiving didn’t officially become a holiday until the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln heeded the long advocacy of magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale and declared the fourth Thursday of every November to be a national Thanksgiving Day.
And with that, a tradition was born. Sure, it would take a number of forms through the years. But the spirit of what Thanksgiving is all about — bringing us together, despite our differences —remained intact.
Those, indeed, were the sentiments shared by President Teddy Roosevelt with his son Kermit, who was away at school, highlighting how the White House observed the holiday in 1902.
“Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and we all went out riding,” Roosevelt wrote. “We had a three-hours’ scamper, which was really great fun.”
“We dined in the new State Dining Room,” the president continued, “and we drank the health of you and all the rest of both families that were absent. After dinner, we cleared away the table and danced. Mother looked just as pretty as a picture, and I had a lovely waltz with her.”
Whether it was at the White House or at Sagamore Hill, Thanksgiving meant a lot to Roosevelt, in how it brought not only the country together, but families, too.
“We are thankful for all that has been done for us in the past,” Roosevelt would say in a Thanksgiving proclamation two years later. “We pray that, in the future, we may be strengthened in the unending struggle to do our duty fearlessly and honestly. With charity and goodwill. With respect for ourselves. And with love toward our fellow man.”
Thanksgiving isn’t just about turkey, pumpkin pie or football. It’s more than the day before the official start of the holiday shopping season. It’s about unity. It’s about cooperation. It’s truly about love — for ourselves, our family, our neighbors. Whether we all gather in one place or our families are spread across the country — or even around the globe — use this time to be together, and enjoy doing it.
The real trick, however, isn’t succeeding at doing that on Thanksgiving, but continuing it after the holiday. Into the following week. Into December. Into next year. There may be so many things we disagree on, but believe it or not, disagreement can not only bring us together, but make us stronger.
All it takes is a little bit of respect — and love — for one another. And we have the chance to get it all started when we gather for turkey, pie and football on Thanksgiving.
And who knows — maybe we can clear away the dinner table afterward, and, like the Roosevelts, celebrate with a little bit of waltzing.