Harvest and Thanksgiving - Coincidental Timing or Fate?
As we gather around the table this Thanksgiving, will you think back to the past? How far back will you think? Thankful that the harvest this year was better than last or thankful to have survived another year farming? Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday every November in America? Why not the 4th Friday in March when we’ve survived another winter?
The first Thanksgiving was held by the Pilgrims in 1621 in the fall after a successful corn harvest. You see, the Pilgrims had made landfall in November/December of 1620 and survived a brutal first winter onboard the Mayflower. In the spring, when they began working on making a settlement, they were greeted by a member of the Abenaki tribe who spoke English. A few days later, he returned with Squanto, who taught the Pilgrims how to successfully plant corn for harvest later in the year. So really. Squanto was our first ag teacher and the corn crop was the Pilgrims’ SAE. When they realized just how blessed the harvest was, the Pilgrims decided to have a feast of Thanksgiving. They invited the Native Americans who had taught them and guided them. The Native Americans showed up with an offering of five deer for the feast! In addition, they likely had pumpkin, squash, turkey, duck, geese, swans, nuts, onions, carrots, potatoes and other locally grown vegetables. The Pilgrims had used most of their supply of sugar, so they likely didn’t have much, if anything, for sweet desserts.
Fast forward a couple of centuries to 1863 at the height of the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln decreed the last Thursday of November to be a day of Thanksgiving and a day to ask God to heal our war-torn country. This was the first national Thanksgiving. As we fast forward on to 1939 when President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up to the 4th Thursday of November in order to boost retail sales during the Great Depression.
Most people know the very basics of Thanksgiving but few in our modern society relate it to harvest. Most relate it the retail season that President Roosevelt was boosting. Most people this week are focusing on Black Friday rather than Thanksgiving. Are we, as members of the ag world, any different?
I was visiting with some friends of our family this week in southeast Kansas who are still working at finishing harvest. They’re getting a little concerned they won’t get it completed before Thanksgiving and know that snow will likely be headed their way sooner than later. Here, in central Missouri, most have wrapped up harvest. As cattlemen and cattlewomen, we have finished our fall harvest of a club calf sale and weaning of all the spring calves. In the livestock sector, we have additional harvest times of weaning fall calves in the spring and the final harvest of fat cattle multiple times through the year. But, November is the month of completion of harvest that we most recognize. It’s a time that our family stops for a day, enjoys a family feast or two, and gives thanks to God for blessing our harvest. My hope is for you and yours to do the same, even if you’re not actively involved in agriculture, because a successful harvest is what keeps your food safe and affordable. And that, in itself, is a lot to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!