As with most traditional holidays and celebrations in the United States, they are a mixture and hodgepodge of stories, culture and commerce, manifested and celebrated today by our present generations. The Thanksgiving holiday in our country is no different.
Abraham Lincoln set the day in 1863, during the Civil War on the fourth Thursday of November, for giving thanks and prayer. Various days of harvest feasting throughout our history and official days of prayer had been celebrated in the past. Thanksgiving was not a recognized “day off work” until 1941, just before the United States entered WWII.
The events in Massachusetts by the Separatists, (a.k.a.) Pilgrims, is a mixture of myths with some fact. The Separatists did have a harvest feast that November. People in Massachusetts began relating the story of the Native Americans and Pilgrims by the 1830’s, although by 1640 Native Peoples where either dead or gone from Plymouth.
Many holidays like Thanksgiving and even Christmas were used as psychological weapons of war on the enemy to break their spirits and will to fight. Later, these days became infused with American marketing and commerce and we end up with our present forms of remembrance and celebration. These also vary across the country and ethnic cultures of our people.
At Sotterley, Thanksgiving was a time chosen by the owners of the 20th century, Herbert and Louisa Satterlee, to visit from New York. We know this because there are photographs taken during this time of year, and it became a tradition for their descendants, Mabel Satterlee Ingalls and even her children and grandchildren visited Sotterley in the fall, usually just before or during Thanksgiving. Oysters, both roasted and as the ingredient in stuffing are traditional dishes in the Tidewater region for the holiday.
No matter how your family chooses to spend this long weekend, remember to share and listen to the stories and history of family around you. Taste, smell and share the culinary traditions of your loved ones. It is the perfect time to ask questions and write down all of your shared history, stories and culture that you want to remember and pass on to the young. Holidays are about making and keeping memory.