Thanksgiving, as we know it in the United States has deep roots in the history of our culture. It was first celebrated by the Pilgrims in the Fall of 1621 so they could give thanks for surviving their first year in the new world. In 1789 President George Washington proclaimed a national day of thanks and in 1863 President Abe Lincoln first made Thanksgiving a National Holiday. Probably more than any of the others, two specific thoughts stand out in relation to Thanksgiving and the outdoors. First is how it emphasizes the extent to which we are still dependent upon Nature for our very survival, and secondly, the extent to which Thanksgiving has been a family oriented holiday.
Think about it. When you picture the pilgrims on the first Thanksgiving, don’t you envision pilgrim hunters bringing a wild turkey or two into the settlement for the feast? Don’t you just as readily picture a group of Indians bringing a deer carried on a pole?
As we become more and more urbanized, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to see how dependent we are on the whims of nature. For most of us, if we really wanted to, we could sit down to a plentiful meal at almost any time of the year. But to those first Americans, they could only experience the benefits of nature’s bounty in the fall when the crops became ripe, and the game was getting fat in preparation for winter. We, as anglers and hunters, are probably far more aware of our inextricable ties to nature than “normal” urban dwellers. Yet, at least once a year the rest of the populace gets a tiny bit of exposure that may help them to understand that we outdoors enthusiasts are simply seeking to be a small part of the natural scheme of things, and not that we are trying to destroy it. If Thanksgiving served no other purpose than to promote tolerance of the outdoor ethic, it would be a most valuable holiday indeed.
The family nature of Thanksgiving is pretty well accepted by most. After all, when was the last time you went to a company Thanksgiving party? As is no doubt true for many families, Thanksgiving for me always provided an opportunity for family members to gather from far and wide on at least one day of the year, and maintain and re-establish old family ties.
I don’t quite know how it evolved, but our family somehow developed a tradition of going outdoors in the late afternoon to work off the lethargy brought on by over-indulgence in assorted foods. One thing led to another, and before long, Thanksgiving afternoon turned into a family hunt. Usually it was duck season and often times pheasants were also fair game. Of course, there were always rabbits and squirrels to seek too. We’d head afield, a motley collection of young and old, Grandpa, and uncles, cousins, and all. If we were lucky, we would get a few shots and maybe even return with a pair of pheasants, some rabbits, and a duck or two for the pot.
Mostly what we got was a lot of camaraderie, and yet another retelling of Grandpa’s hunting tales of years gone by. We all knew by heart the story of how Grandpa went out duck hunting with only two shotgun shells and returned with four ducks (or was it five). We all knew equally well, how Grandpa began tracking one bear in the snow and it was joined by another bear and another and yet another until Grandpa finally decided he didn’t want to have to take on five bears with a single shot muzzle loader.
When I look back, I think that it was really immaterial how many creatures we brought home. What was important was that at least once a year we got to participate in a familial passing of traditions and values from one generation to another, and yet another.
I, for one, am grateful for a host of blessings, but especially that we even have an opportunity that enables us to gather together and give thanks to our God, however, we perceive him, for the blessings he has given us. I don’t know about you, but I’m thankful that we have the opportunity to fish in clean waters, and hunt for wild game. I’m thankful for all of the generations who have been able to pass along such traditions and who hopefully will be able to do so for many generations to come. It is my sincere hope that you too, will have so much to be grateful for.
Until next time, Tight Lines.
Don Moyer is a longtime Central Valley resident and avid outdoorsman. He contributes occasional columns.