Thanksgiving will soon be upon those of us who reside in the United States. We’ll come together in family gatherings or as friends to celebrate “being thankful” or “thanks for the blessings we have had during the year.” We’ll gather together and feast on turkey, potatoes, and pumpkin pie in-between watching parades, football games, and enjoying one another’s company. One thing that most people immediately recognize is that Thanksgiving is not tied to any religious practice or specific religion. That’s because the practice of celebrating a harvest or any other event tied to the earth, has a distinct pagan connection. To clarify the usage of the word “pagan,” it must be understood that it was a term created and exploited to demonize any religion other than Christianity. All of the earth-based religions were lumped into one category by the church as they sought to wipe them from the very face of the earth while simultaneously spreading Christianity as a replacement.
The concept of a day of thanks did not originate in America. Many other instances can be found in history. The Romans celebrated Cerelia in early October. The festivities were focused on thanking the Goddess of the Harvest Ceres. Ancient Greeks honored Demeter, goddess of the harvest and agriculture, and corn. Celtic Pagans and Angelo Saxon’s had huge celebrations–Lughnasadh and Mabon which were two of the three harvest festivals of the ancient world. Other civilizations had their own version of how the harvest would be celebrated. In England, the autumnal feast was called Harvest Home and was derived from the ancient druidical harvest feast. The druids were one of the groups of people singled out by the Christian church for total destruction. They were considered direct competition to the church and were branded as being openly Satanic in their form of worship.
Harvest Home was a three-day feast that originally began with a special church service followed a communal dinner. The Puritans originally shunned the Harvest Home celebration as well as Christmas and Easter on the grounds that they had pagan origins. The belief that merging pagan celebrations with Christian doctrine for the sake of converting people didn’t sit well with people in later years. Their religious beliefs as well as the austerity and difficulty of their lives in the rather primitive settlement, did not permit them the luxury of celebration. Their severe living conditions required discipline and sacrifice. Yet the creation of a new holiday that specifically thanked their God for the harvest that enabled them to survive the winter, seemed just fine.
Native American spiritual worship was also considered pagan by the church since it didn’t fit into their one-god doctrine. Yet, the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans that had their meal with the Pilgrims on that faithful day gave thanks to the many Spirits they worshipped on that day. They gave standing to the precious corn crop for it’s life-giving nourishment. They celebrated Kiehtan the Creator, as well an obvious similarity to the Christian God.
Despite the passing of time, the Christian church has not been able to eliminate Thanksgiving as a holiday, eventually accepting it as a nationalistic day with no connection to the church. Basically they rejected it as another potential stolen pagan celebration that they could repackage to their parishioners. Much like Halloween, Thanksgiving had a deeper root into the lives of the early people than the church could imagine.
Symbols of Thanksgiving & Their Meaning
Cornucopia – A Cornucopia is a horn shaped basket, usually filled to the point of overflowing with the bounty of the recent harvest. Items such as fresh fruits, dried grains, and other root vegetables were piled around the opening of the cornucopia to demonstrate “plenty.” So much that the cornucopia has been referred to as the “horn of plenty.” The cornucopia dates back to ancient Greece. In an old tale, Amathea the goat, broke off his horn and offered it to Zeus as a sign of reverence. In return for his loyalty, Zeus interred the image of the goat in the night sky, an image we now known as Capricorn. This tale demonstrates an exchange of gratitude and offering, thanks and giving.
Corn – One of the easiest symbols of Thanksgiving to recognize is corn. Native Americans would know it as maize or maiz. Maize played an important mythological role in many tribes and in some, Corn was a respected deity, while in others, corn was a special gift to the people from the Creator. In addition to its importance as a food source, corn also played a ceremonial role in many tribes, with sacred corn pollen or cornmeal being used as ritual adornment and spiritual offering. It is believed that native Americans had been growing corn a long time before the pilgrims arrived in the new world, and they taught pilgrims how to grow corn and help them survive the bitter winter. Corn was from that day forward, a part of the Thanksgiving dinner, and the tradition continues today.
Turkey – Long before the pilgrims sat down to eat with the native American’s who saved them from starving, the turkey was associated with abundance and being thankful. Some tribes viewed the bird as a sacred symbol of abundance and fertility, one which would serve as the sacrificial guest of honor in various ceremonies. Turkey feathers are a prized possession and are an integral part of ritualistic smudging ceremonies. Animal symbolism is considered powerful medicine among natives and should not be treated disrespectfully. Turkey medicine is strongest in the fall and a visit from a turkey means we should be mindful of the blessings bestowed upon us.
A Few Thanksgiving Facts You Might Not Have Known
The official version states that Thanksgiving started in 1621 with a three day feast by pilgrims to celebrate their survival through their first winter in the new world. It was later made a permanent holiday by President Lincoln in 1863.
President Franklin Roosevelt made one of the only changes to the holiday’s celebration; changing the date from the late Thursday in November to the next-to-last, in hopes that a longer Christmas shopping window would boost retailers profits. The term Black Friday, being the first shopping day of the Christmas season has it’s origins in the same logic FDR worked with.
The ancient Roman celebration of the harvest is called Cerelia, which is the origin of the word cereal that we use today.
Ben Franklin had proposed the turkey as the official bird of the nation, but eventually the bald eagle won out.
The Christmas classic, “jingle bells” was originally penned by James Pierpont for children celebrating Thanksgiving at his Boston Sunday School. It was so popular that it was repeated for Christmas, a holiday which made the song what it is today.
91% of Americans consume turkey on Thanksgiving.
The very first TV Dinner consisted of a Thanksgiving meal – Swanson Foods found themselves with a surplus of frozen turkey after a slow Thanksgiving one year and a senior executive came up with the frozen meal idea – it debuted at $0.98 for the complete meal, a factor which helped establish a permanent market.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the single largest sales day for tavern and bar sales nationwide.