Posted by: Daniel Cisek, Deputy Press Attaché
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and many Americans would probably say the same. I love the fact that the day is focused on family and being thankful for our blessings in life, and that it hasn’t become commercialized like some other holidays.
There are different stories about the origins of the day and what occurred at the “first” Thanksgiving. It’s generally agreed that Thanksgiving is modeled on a 1621 harvest feast shared by the English colonists (Pilgrims) of Plymouth and the Wampanoag Indians. President Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863, during the American Civil War. The day became firmly fixed on the fourth Thursday in November in 1942, during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.
My own memories of Thanksgiving revolve around food and family. We would invite my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to our house almost every year. As a child, I would stay home from school on the day before Thanksgiving (which felt naughty, but fun) to help my mother prepare the food. We had lots to prepare – the turkey, stuffing (small cubes of bread with celery, onions, and spices, cooked inside of the turkey), mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and lots of desserts – especially pumpkin pie!
On Thanksgiving Day, my mother would wake up very early and put the turkey in the oven. As it slowly cooked, it filled the house with a wonderful aroma that will always be synonymous with Thanksgiving to me. In the early afternoon, our relatives would arrive – my grandparents, already quite old and walking slowly but happy to be with the family, my big uncles in their long coats and colorful holiday sweaters, my tall aunts in their long dresses, and my seven cousins fidgeting awkwardly in their stiff new clothes. The kids would run around playing games and bothering the uncles as they tried to watch American football on TV (another Thanksgiving tradition) and the aunts as they talked about everything under the sun.
At three o’clock, we would sit down for the big meal. The kids usually had a separate table, but sometimes a mischievous adult would invade our space and sit with us, which we always loved. My uncle Herman, a Catholic priest, would say the opening prayer before we started to eat, thanking God for our blessings and the health and safety of our family. After too many plates of great food, we rolled out the deserts and tried to see if we could eat even more. My cousin Jimmy and I were about the same age, and we would have contests to see who could eat the most – usually it was a tie!
After dinner the younger and more energetic members of the family would take a long walk to the lake. I grew up in Chicago, less than half a kilometer from Lake Michigan, one of the largest fresh-water lakes in the world. November in Chicago is cold and windy, and often rainy, and the lake was usually a boiling mass of white-capped waves. It was a beautiful sight that capped off our Thanksgiving celebration. No matter how far I am from home, I will always remember those special Thanksgivings with my family and the meaning of this great American holiday.