MONARCH — On Nov. 5, 1963, President John F. Kennedy issued a Thanksgiving proclamation that began with these words:
“Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.”
As President Kennedy pointed out, Thanksgiving has its origins in the very origins of America itself, origins that date to the early 17th century and the founding of the first English settlements in what is now the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
There are those — mainly in Virginia — who claim that the settlers who founded the Jamestown Colony in Virginia in 1603 before the Pilgrims arrived to establish the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620 were the first to give thanks in what became the United States of America. While the Jamestown colonists certainly arrived ahead of the Pilgrims and no doubt gave thanks upon their arrival, Thanksgiving as it has come down to us in the present day actually began in the Plymouth Colony one year after the Pilgrims arrived.
In 1621, sometime between Sept. 21 and Nov. 11, the Pilgrims celebrated for three days their first harvest in their new land. The celebration was attended by the 50 Pilgrims who had survived their first winter in the colony and 90 members of a Native American people known as the Wampanoag whose members — along with Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, of the Native American Patuxet people — had helped the Pilgrims survive by teaching them how to cultivate corn, squash and beans and how to fish.
While not called by that name as it is today, that first celebration became the origin of Thanksgiving. Even though it is now more a day for families to gather to enjoy a wonderful and very tasty meal together, the coming together of two very different peoples has not been forgotten, especially at Monarch Elementary School.
Shortly before Thanksgiving Day 2017, the staff and students of Monarch Elementary School celebrated Thanksgiving in a way that honored the memory of that first celebration. Some dressed as Pilgrims and some dressed as Native Americans and dined together during the school’s annual Thanksgiving Lunch.
The 400th anniversary of that first day of Thanksgiving is now less than four years away and so it is fitting that our young people and those we entrust with the responsibility of educating them celebrate the memory that first celebration and the two peoples whose coming together helped lay the foundation not only for Thanksgiving, but for America itself. May there always be Thanksgiving and may there also always be the United States of America and may the American people always celebrate and give thanks for them both.