AN AMERICAN’S THANKSGIVING IN LONDON
BY TODD COWAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
As the world prepares for the 2021 holiday season, many American households diligently prepare their homes (and kitchens) for an additional observed holiday, Thanksgiving Day.
A brief history and why we observe a day of ‘thanks’…
In July 1620, a small ship bearing the name Mayflower left its dock on the River Thames near Wapping, carrying 62 passengers. Forty additional brave souls would board in Plymouth, England, before setting sail to the New World a month later. After two months of challenging and uncomfortable conditions, the Pilgrims, as they became known, arrived in modern-day New England.
After making landfall much further north than their intended destination, the new world settlers suffered a brutal and treacherous winter, which saw dozens perish because of exposure, disease, and famine.
As winter gave way to spring, the Pilgrims were aided in their settlement to the ‘New World’ with the help of the local Native American tribes, Pawtuxet and Wampanoag. The Pawtuxet and Wampanoag taught the settlers how to fish the local rivers and farm the New England land.
Following the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest in November 1621, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast to thank God for their bountiful crop. Out of respect and appreciation, the Pilgrims invited their Native American friends to a festival that lasted three days. This festive feast is now remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving.”
On November 25th, 2021, families across the United States will gather to observe (in one way or another) the 400th anniversary of that wonderfully inclusive occasion in 1621.
What does Thanksgiving mean to me?
Some of the earliest memories I have, are of Thanksgiving dinners at my grandmother’s house. I remember with remarkable clarity the sheer number of friends and family packed into one place.
The ‘table’ seemed to grow every year as we added more place settings, and even the living room, den, and foyer were turned into makeshift dining rooms…everyone had a spot to enjoy their meal, and we never ran out of space. Each year, I wondered if this would be the year I would graduate to the ‘big’ table. I can still hear the clinking of passing dishes and the murmur of conversation while the smell of pumpkin pie spices hung in the air – my dad would say grace, I would say, “Let’s eat!”…
As I write this, I remember how thankful I was to have so many people I loved in one place.
The importance of Thanksgiving today
Thanksgiving is widely considered America’s second favorite holiday (next to Christmas), not only because of the great meal and the day off work, but also for the opportunity to take a step back from our hectic world and give thanks for all of our blessings.
Yet, daily, we find ourselves deeply consumed with the nature of real-time news and headlines (some more reliable than others). Whether it is the increasingly volatile financial markets, the widening political divides globally, or the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on us all over the past 18-24 months, it is forgivable to feel overwhelmed by the progressively negative news. For this reason, I believe now more than ever, that we all need to take a pause and embrace the real essence of Thanksgiving.
In many American households, Thanksgiving Day has lost much of its original religious significance. Instead, it now focuses on the celebratory aspects of a day off work filled with parades, volunteering, American football, cooking Turkey (a Thanksgiving staple), and sharing a generous meal with family and friends.
However, one enduring tie remains from the first celebration in 1621 to the estimated 260 million people celebrating in 2021; Thanksgiving continues to be a day of reflection and recognition for the blessings in our lives.
For that reason, I will be taking a moment this Thanksgiving to reflect, and more importantly, acknowledge how thankful I am for the good things and people in my life, with a particular fondness for family, friends, and co-workers who provide support and encouragement each day.
So, on this fourth Thursday of November, if you have a moment to spare, reach out to your American friends and offer them a “Happy Thanksgiving” they’ll no doubt appreciate the sentiment, and in turn, be thankful you’re in their life.
As one of 10 million Americans that can directly tie my descendants back to the Mayflower’s journey in 1620, I am incredibly honored to share what Thanksgiving means to me. I will remember this year’s Thanksgiving with particular fondness as my wife and I celebrate, a mere stone’s throw away from the ship’s origination on the banks of the Thames.