Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American.
— O. Henry, from his short story “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen”
We can all be thankful that this year’s Thanksgiving will be very different from last year’s. While our nation and the world are not yet fully through the Covid pandemic, most of us will be able to gather once again on this very special American holiday with family, friends and neighbors. That in itself is something to give thanks for.
Let’s remember, too, that despite the constrictions imposed on us in 2020, the spirit of Thanksgiving lived on in all the smaller, more isolated gatherings—the spirit of appreciating whatever good fortune one has, the spirit of sharing with those who are less fortunate, the spirit of gratitude for living in this great nation. Last year’s patience and fortitude will help make Thanksgiving 2021 richer and more meaningful.
We have so much to be grateful for, and so many to whom we owe thanks:
The two million men and women who serve on active duty or in the reserves in America’s Armed Forces.
The extraordinary police officers and firefighters and other first-responders who work to protect us 24/7.
The medical workers who sacrificed so much during the worst days of the Covid crisis in 2020, who sacrificed yet again when the Delta variant struck this year, and who continue to serve us on the healthcare frontlines.
The citizen volunteers who give so generously of their time and energy to lift up those in need; they too went above and beyond in 2020 and did so again in 2021.
The educators who work for modest pay to prepare our young people for the future, and who still must struggle with pandemic challenges.
We owe all these people—and many more like them—so much. They are essential parts of our national character.
Some facts about this special day:
• The first Thanksgiving was actually a three-day event. In November 1621, the Pilgrims decided to celebrate their first successful corn harvest. Members of the Wampanoag tribe, alarmed by the sound of muskets being fired ceremonially into the air, came around, learned it was a celebration and returned bearing food. It was then decided to extend the affair two more days.
• There is no record of turkey being served at the first Thanksgiving. Venison, swan, duck and goose were likely served instead. People also feasted on seafood, including lobster, oysters and fish.
• For more than 200 years, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. In 1863, amid the Civil War, President Lincoln made Thanksgiving a permanent national holiday.
• In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November in an attempt to help the economy during the Great Depression by expanding the Christmas shopping season.
• The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924. It featured live animals from the Central Park Zoo, Broadway performers, Macy's employees and small floats. The last float held a Santa Claus—a vivid reminder, if one was needed, that Christmas was approaching.
Thanksgiving. Whatever our tribulations, we all have much to be thankful for.
Robert L. Dilenschneider is the Founder and CEO of The Dilenschneider Group, an international communications firm that provides strategic advice and counsel to Fortune 500 companies and leading families and individuals in fields ranging from mergers and acquisitions, to crisis communications, to marketing, government affairs and foreign media.