Thanksgiving is a family-focused holiday in the US today, but its roots lie in a much older festival celebrated at the community level. It took place after a very important event of the farming year – harvest time. And indeed the very first Thanksgiving in America was celebrated with the first Americans who had taught the English migrants to raise endemic crops and poultry – corn, pumpkin, turkey, and other edibles. Without their help, how would those new migrants have fared in the New World? Does anyone give a thought about the original Americans on this day?
In the days before mechanization, harvest time was a community affair: everyone helped everyone else get their crops in before the frost and the rain. And once all the products of the year’s farming activities had been stored, preserved, salted down, or dried for the winter, everyone celebrated together as a community – to give thanks for the earth’s bounty and to hope for similar blessings for the coming year. In Germany there are still communities that celebrate the Harvest Festival (Erntefest) with traditional dancing and of course plenteous drinking and eating. In England, in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, the Harvest Festival in the little Anglican Church of St. Paul’s invites church members to bring baskets filled with products from their own gardens, and these fruit- and nut- and vegetable- laden baskets are auctioned, and the money thus collected is spent on food items to be distributed to families in need. My quince tree was usually full of golden fruit at this time, and I used to fill a couple of baskets with them, with instructions for making quince jelly tucked in.
Today I give thanks foremost for my family and for our continuing good health. In terms of harvest, I am told by neighbours in Leamington that my quince tree has been very fruitful this year, and for that too, I am grateful. My lemon tree and calamondin tree have been generous this year too, and so have the artichokes. I am thankful that the bay trees and herbs have done well and continue to supply our needs. It is wonderful to nip outside and take a leaf or two of bay and pop it into a stew or Bolognese. The flavour of fresh bayleaf is altogether richer and deeper and more complex than dried.
I passed by the Christmas Market at the Münsterplatz today – it’s been on for a week now. It is lovely to have this outdoor market full of lights and interest and merriment, particularly at this time of year when night falls very early. It’s been our tradition to have a pork steak grilled over coals and a glass of Glühwein (mulled wine).
I wish you all a lovely Thanksgiving Day, and may everyday be an occasion for giving thanks!