Thanksgiving is celebrated here in the USA, the fourth Thursday of every November. The purpose of Thanksgiving is to give thanks to our God and creator for the bountiful harvest in which he blessed us. It was first celebrated in 1621 by the new setters of the first colony, but was not repeated until 1777 by George Washington and his army. They stopped in blustery weather in an open field to celebrate the first Thanksgiving of a new United States of America. They were giving thanks for the end of the war with Great Britain and the start of a newly independent nation that allowed Christians the freedom to practice the religion of their choice without interference by the government.
Until 1789 the holiday was declared yearly by the president but George Washington took the initiative to preserve the custom by declaring November 26 as a national holiday of prayer and thanksgiving. However, the tradition was stopped for 45 years sometime in the early 1800ís and was reinstated by President Lincoln in 1863. In 1941, President Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday of November rather than continue with the fixed date of November 26.
The traditional foods differ throughout the country as the people that makes up the diversity of our country is so richly blending foods and tradition. However, the most commonly served food include Turkey, Ham, Turducken, dressing or stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, sweet potatoes, cranberries, green beans, rolls or fresh breads and pumpkin pie. In South Central USA foods differ greatly from state to state.
Louisiana and Mississippi families didn't always serve turkey until more recently but instead served Gumbo and pork because it was the time of year to butcher and it was readily available. Today, Cajun Turkey with either some combination of oyster, Creole Pork, shrimp or craw-fish with cornbread stuffing or with Dirty-Rice stuffing is more commonly served. Sweet Potato Pie is also served instead of the traditional Pumpkin Pie at some tables. Turducken originated in Louisiana which is a combination of poultry in which a turkey is stuffed with a boneless duck stuffed with a boneless chicken including a very spicy stuffing packed in where ever there was space or an open pocket to fill. Collard greens usually grace the tables instead of green beans.
Arkansas and Tennessee traditions include deer hunting in the mornings as the women watch the parades and prepare the traditional Thanksgiving foods. After the morning hunt, the men enjoy watching football in the afternoons after the Thanksgiving feast. Foods are pretty traditional in Arkansas and Tennessee but because of economics most make whatever they have in abundance. There are many hunters in the two states and most eat the meat they harvest from the hunt. If they havenít been able to get a turkey, deer could be used as the main dish.
In Oklahoma and Texas the foods are mostly traditional, except in ethnic communities where foods from Mexico and Native Indian origin come into play with the spices and foods they enjoy. Sweet Potato pie is sometimes served instead of Pumpkin pie here as well.
Throughout the South Central region the biggest difference I found in traditional foods was in the dressing or stuffing. Some prefer to have their turkey stuffed with dressing while others prefer to cook it separately. In the northern part of the region the majority of people seem to prefer a white bread base for their dressing while in the southern region they seem to prefer a cornbread base. Some of the additions to the base mixture of bread, onions, celery, poultry seasoning and butter or turkey dripping are cranberries, pecans, oysters, seafood, apples, chestnuts, raisins and sausage or turkey giblets.
The most common Thanksgiving traditions are traveling to visit our families or calling those who could not, having a feast of delicious foods and taking the wishbone of the turkey and breaking it for luck. Many families have traditions that include remembering the less fortunate by serving Thanksgiving Dinner to people at shelters or church kitchens. This allows them to remember to be thankful that they have a home and the ability to feed themselves in a time when so many families have been impacted by the recession that caused many to lose their homes and jobs.
Thanksgiving Day parades started back in 1920 in the city of Philadelphia to announce the arrival of the holiday season. Watching the Thanksgiving Day parades is a popular family tradition. The last float of the parade contains Santa Claus marking the beginning of the Christmas Season. After the big feast, football is commonly watched as the dishes are washed and clean-up is done. A nap is sometimes required as the L-tryptophan from the turkey kicks in.
Thanksgiving is a day we all share in giving thanks for what we have and for the family we gather around us. I pray this tradition is never lost. We need a time of reflection to be thankful and evaluate what we need to change to make our lives better in the coming year.