While the first Thanksgiving is generally remembered as the one held by the Indians and Pilgrims in 1621, that famous event was actually a three-day harvest celebration of the colony's first successful growing season. For the Puritans, a day of thanksgiving was hardly a party. It was a solemn occasion marked by prayer and, quite ironically, fasting instead of feasting.
When American presidents and governors began to declare days of thanksgiving in the 1700s, religious connotation remained. Under Abraham Lincoln, a national Thanksgiving Day was made an annual affair. Soon thereafter a mythic connection to the pilgrim's legendary dinner was made, and the event morphed into a harvest holiday marked by a great meal of indigenous American foods.
As different as these many Thanksgivings have been through the years, they've all had the same ultimate purpose: to express gratitude for the good things with which we have been blessed. While this means many things to many people, a growing number of Americans are interpreting it as a chance to give something back. They're abstaining from overindulgence and dedicating the day to good deeds. Call it an alternative Thanksgiving, and here are some favorite ways to spend the day:
- Donate food to local organizations that feed the hungry.
- Help cook and serve a meal at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen.
- Invite to dinner someone who otherwise would be alone that day.
- Volunteer at an animal shelter.
- Remember your elderly neighbors, and visit a senior center or nursing home.
- Go hiking. If the weather is right where you live, pack some turkey (or Tofurky) sandwiches and head into the great outdoors to give thanks for nature's life-sustaining wonder.
- Plant some trees. The dormant, leafless state they assume in autumn marks an ideal time for successful transplanting.
- Spend the day assembling care packages for U.S. troops overseas. One organization facilitating such care packages is Any Soldier, but the internet abounds with organizations that can help.
Activities like these can create important holiday memories and become meaningful traditions for your family. They refresh the true meaning of Thanksgiving, and that's really something to celebrate.