[Written by U.S. Consul General Robert Settje] Thanksgiving is one of the most cherished holidays in the United States.
Holidays often change over the years – the evolution of Christmas from a religious celebration to a several months’-long commercial event is perhaps the most obvious example – but for nearly four centuries, Thanksgiving has maintained its original theme, i.e., the importance of taking time to be thankful for the many blessings that have come our way during the past year.
The very first Thanksgiving, all those many years ago, set the tone. It recalls not just a time of hardship and sorrow when many Pilgrims died in their pursuit of religious freedom, but also a period of amity with their Native American neighbors, who helped them produce a bountiful, life-sustaining harvest. Massachusetts Bay Governor William Bradford wrote in his personal journal that the Pilgrims faced trials that we can only imagine:
Being thus passed the vast ocean … they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to … And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent … Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness?
While many Pilgrims succumbed to the devastating winter, the neighboring Wampanoag tribe helped them learn how to find and grow food. Bradford noted further:
Squanto …was a special instrument sent of God for [the Pilgrims’] good beyond their expectation. He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died.
To celebrate the plentiful harvest and to give thanks to God and their new friends, Governor Bradford invited the Wampanoag to join the Pilgrims for a feast. That was the first Thanksgiving. In subsequent years, the colonies – and later the new states – continued to celebrate Thanksgiving each autumn, but the day of observance varied from place to place.
In 1789, President George Washington proclaimed the first national day of public thanksgiving, but it was a one-time event. It wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln established the annual holiday of Thanksgiving to help the nation heal from the wounds of the American Civil War. Americans – family, friends, and neighbors – have come together ever since to be with one another and to express their appreciation for the goodness in their lives.
Today, those who call America home, wherever they may live and from wherever they may originate, continue to gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Americans may be diverse, but Thanksgiving Day has become a national tradition we all share, binding us together and reminding us that despite the many trials and tribulations of everyday life, we all have something for which to be grateful. It is a time when we renew our connection to one another, when we acknowledge our many blessings, and when we share blessings with others, including our friends and neighbors here in Bermuda.
On behalf of the people of the United States and the American Society of Bermuda, I extend an invitation to all of you – Americans, Bermudians, everyone – to join me at an interfaith Thanksgiving Day service at 12:15 p.m. today, November 22, at the Anglican Cathedral on Church Street, Hamilton. I will have the honor of reading President Obama’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. I hope to see you there in the spirit of thankfulness and friendship.