It’s commonly called “Turkey Day.” And when I was in high school the biggest football game of the year was the “Turkey Bowl” played between neighboring rival high schools. But it’s really called Thanksgiving.
The wild turkey is a native bird to North America — and, thus, Benjamin Franklin claimed that this bird was more suitable as a national bird for the US than the bald eagle. Not everyone agreed with Franklin, however, and the bald eagle became the national emblem in 1782. Nonetheless, the turkey has one day a year all to itself – Thanksgiving.
The history of the Thanksgiving turkey remains a bit of a mystery. It is unclear how this bird earned a place of honor at the table, but historians have a few theories.
Thanks to letters and records kept by early American settlers, it appears that colonists sat down for that first Thanksgiving meal with the Wampanoag Indians after a rough first winter in Plymouth to feast on beef, venison, and fowl. It is unclear that the type of fowl was turkey, but one pilgrim settler recorded a turkey hunting trip before the meal.
Another theory attributes the Thanksgiving turkey to the Queen of England. In the 16th century, a fleet of Spanish ships sank on their way to attack England.
According to the legend, Queen Elizabeth received this news while eating dinner. She was so thrilled that she ordered another goose be served.
Some historians suggest that the colonists were inspired by her example and their memories of the motherland that they sought a prize fowl for the first “Thanksgiving meal” – and thereby, roasted a turkey, instead of a goose.
Our first National Thanksgiving Proclamation in the US was declared by President George Washington for Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. Washington attended a public worship service at St. Paul’s Chapel in New York City, and donated food and beer to imprisoned debtors in the city.
Nonetheless, it was not done without controversy as Jefferson and other Anti-Federalists disagreed with the proclamation. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln established with congressional approval the regular tradition of observing days of national thanksgiving. Washington proclaimed that such a day “… be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
So, when you gather around the table this Thanksgiving, what will you proclaim? A tradition? A holiday from work? A national event on the calendar? Or a reflection in gratitude?
A tradition in our home has been that each person at the table has three kernels of corn on their plate. Before we partake of the meal, each one must share three things for which they are thankful. And then we typically read together from one of the Psalms – often Psalm 100:
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us and not we ourselves. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise; give thanks to him and bless His name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.”
I would suggest that we take God’s Word to heart. Singer Willie Nelson wrote in his book, “The Tao of Willie”: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” Pause to reflect and recall the ways that God has been good. Take time to think and be thankful! Count your blessings!