Happy Halloween! And Allhallowtide, Samhain and Dia de los Muertos too!

Kids in costumes in a row, smiling

Photo courtesy of Shaw Air Force Base

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 31 and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and MONDAY, NOVEMBER 2—From Samhain to Mexico’s Day of the Dead to Halloween, world cultures celebrate the belief that at this time of year, the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin—and ancestors are held close. Don’t worry, it’s not all solemn and bone-chilling, though—today’s secular Halloween also brings out bright Jack-o-lanterns, loads of candy and a pretty good excuse for adults to join in on the fun with kids. So grab your best ghoulish mask and get the (Halloween) party started!

THE COVID-19 HALLOWEEN FORECAST

This year, the nation’s leading public-health experts are encouraging families to enjoy outdoor Trick or Treating. The most-shared advice in mid-October comes from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who declared:”Go out there and enjoy Halloween!” That line formed the headline of lots of subsequent newspaper and magazine stories. Fauci explained that during a typical Trick or Treat stroll, “You’re outdoors for the most part. Enjoy it. This is a time children love. It’s an important time of the year for children.”

In fact CNN has been predicting a Halloween “blowout.” CNN reported, for example: “The National Retail Federation expects Halloween spending to hit a record $10.14 billion. … Candy and chocolate sales are already soaring above 2020 levels, according to the National Confectioners Association, a trade group.”

Then USA Today detailed that spending: “Most of the spending will go to costumes: $3.32 billion, 27% more than last year and the most since consumers spent $3.35 billion in 2017. Almost as much–$3.17 billion–will be spent on decorations. And $3 billion will be spent on candy.”

However, that does not mean families can expect all of the typical pre-COVID traditions and events to be back on their regional schedules this year.

One big category of cancelations involves apartment complexes. Many high-rise complexes have cancelled Trick or Treating again this year, because children would be crowding into indoor spaces such as hallways and elevators. But the rules vary widely. Complexes with plenty of outdoor community space may still be holding events.

Bottom line: Check on any events in your community that you and your kids would like to attend.

Tips for Halloween Fun

One of the most highly recommended set of 2021 tips comes from The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website HealthyChildren.org, headlined: Halloween & COVID-19: Have Fun While Staying Safe. In addition to ideas for family fun, that list of tips ends with links covering food allergies and advice about face makeup and costumes that include decorative contact lenses.

Want even more ideas? Here are webpages packed with tips and resources from Nickelodeon and Nick Jr., Oprah Daily, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Womans’ Day and even Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman.

HALLOWEEN: A CHRISTIAN ORIGIN & A CULTURAL PHENOMENON

Allhallowtide, the triduum of Halloween, recalls deceased spirits, saints (hallows) and martyrs alike, in one collective commemoration. The word Halloween is of Christian origin, and many Christians visit graveyards during this time to pray and place flowers and candles at the graves of their deceased loved ones. The two days following All Hallows Eve—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day—pay homage to the souls that Christians believe are now with God. In medieval England, Christians went “souling” on Halloween, begging for soul cakes in exchange for prayers in local churches.

Halloween’s secular side has emerged during the past century, and today, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses, watching horror movies and dressing up like favorite characters has become custom in Western culture.

SAMHAIN: GUISING FOR A TRICK

pumpkin candles darkness

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

The original Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and ushered in winter, or the “darker half” of the year, in Gaelic Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. During this time of year, bonfires were lit for the purpose of divination and as a protective and cleansing measure. Legend has it that spirits could easily come to earth, and many people would leave out food and drink for the roaming entities.

In many households, ancestors were welcomed to the table with particular enthusiasm, and large meals were prepared. Multiple sites in Ireland were, and still are, associated with Samhain, and the spirits that emerge there at this time of year. Guising—donning a costume—was thought to “trick” ill-intentioned spirits roaming the streets near Samhain, and hallowed-out turnips were lit with a candle and placed in windows, their monstrous carved faces frightening bad spirits.

Today’s Samhain emerged as part of the late 19th century Celtic Revival, and Neopagans, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans and Wiccans all celebrate the holiday, in slightly varying ways. Most keep the widespread traditions of lighting bonfires, paying homage to ancestors, welcoming the “darker” season and preparing feasts with apples, nuts, meats, seasonal vegetables and mulled wines.

MUERTOS: DAY OF THE DEAD

Vibrant decorations for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, mark towns in Mexico and Latin American communities far and wide, as the lives of the departed are celebrated with vigor. The full festival of Dia de los Muertos typically lasts two or three days (in some regions, customs begin on October 31), and traditionally, November 1 pays tribute to the souls of children and the innocent while November 2 is dedicated to deceased adult souls. In Mexico, relatives adorn altars and graves with elaborate garlands and wreaths, crosses made of flowers and special foods. Families gather in cemeteries, where pastors bestow prayers upon the dead. For children, Dia de los Muertos celebrations mean candy like sugar skulls and once-a-year treats; music and dancing delight celebrants of all ages.

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Father’s Day: Celebrate Dad, Papa, Grandpa—and more

Father's Day man and kid

Photo courtesy of StockSnap.io

SUNDAY, JUNE 20: Cook dinner on the grill, spend some time with Dad and take a minute to say “Thanks”—it’s Father’s Day! Across the United States, more than 70 million fathers qualify for recognition on this special day.

Fortune magazine reports that Americans’ focus on Father’s Day has been growing in popularity over the last decade, at least as analysts judge the amount American families spend on Father’s Day gifts. Each year, Americans spend about $25 billion on Mother’s Day, Fortune reports, but Father’s Day spending now is up to $16 billion.

Did you know? Celebrations similar to Father’s Day have been in existence around the globe for hundreds of years. In traditionally Catholic countries, fathers are popularly recognized on the Feast of St. Joseph.

SONORA SMART DODD: A FATHER’S DAY IN AMERICA

icon adult and kid

Photo by David, courtesy of Noun Project

The American Father’s Day began in Spokane, Washington, in 1910, with the daughter of a widow. When Sonora Smart Dodd heard a Mother’s Day sermon in church, she approached her pastor, believing that fathers like hers—a Civil War veteran and single father who had raised six children—deserved recognition, too.

Following the initial few years, Father’s Day was all but lost until Dodd returned to Spokane, once again promoting her holiday. Despite support by trade groups and the Father’s Day Council, Father’s Day was rejected by both the general public and Congress until 1966. President Richard Nixon signed the holiday into law in 1972.

CELEBRATING FATHER’S DAY: FOOD, FUN & MORE

Stumped on how to celebrate Dad today? Look no further! We’ve rounded up plenty of ideas to please dads of any age:

Cooking dinner for Dad? Whether you’re taking food to the grill or to the oven, get inspired with recipes from Food Network, Martha Stewart and AllRecipes.

Spending time with Dad may be the best gift of all, and if you’re stumped for activity ideas, Reader’s Digest and Parents.com dole out suggestions on what to do.

Gift ideas: Not sure what to get Dad this year? NBC has a list of affordable gift ideas, while CNN has a list of practical gift suggestions. Yahoo! offers ideas for dads who “say they don’t want anything,” and Parade has a little something different: 100 Father’s Day messages, suggested for cards, text messages or as social media tags.

From the Kids: Young children can craft gifts, cards and more with ideas from here.

Mother’s Day: Shower Mom with love in another unusual year

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

SUNDAY, MAY 9: Show some appreciation for Mom, Grandma and any maternal figure in your life today on this, the second Sunday of May—it’s Mother’s Day!

Families may be gathering outdoors and wearing masks, opting for a small in-person gathering or even continuing to use videoconferencing, but that doesn’t mean that Mom shouldn’t feel special today. So show her some love!

MOTHER’S DAY: 2021

Whether or not you plan to see Mom in-person today, sending her a homemade card or handwritten letter is, ironically, just the type of sentiment that the original Mother’s Day founder intended when she advocated the holiday. Anna Jarvis hoped that mothers could be shown appreciation through heartfelt, personal sentiments, rather than commercial goods.

Check out these resources for more meaningful ideas on how to celebrate:

For tips on a meaningful videoconference with Mom—and more—check out this article from Woman’s Day. More tips for a distanced Mother’s Day, from party planners, are at MarthaStewart.com.

Looking for DIY gift ideas? Craft something for Mom yourself (get ideas from Good Housekeeping, or for kids, check out ideas from Woman’s Day).

Many churches will be streaming Mother’s Day services and Mass today, but if your church doesn’t, check out Catholic TV and Christian World Media for listings of virtual services.

carnations Mother's Day

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

ANNA JARVIS: CARNATIONS AND A SERVICE

Although motherhood has been celebrated for millennia, the modern American version of Mother’s Day—the one we all know today—began in 1908 with Anna Jarvis. Determined to bring awareness to the vital role of each mother in her family, Jarvis began campaigning for a “Mother’s Day,” and finally was successful in reaching the whole country in 1914. Jarvis’s concept differed considerably from corporate interests in the holiday, however, and the over-commercialization of Mother’s Day was irritating to Jarvis as early as the 1920s. This year, in honor of the Mother’s Day centennial, honor Mom the way Jarvis intended: with a hand-written letter, a visit, a homemade gift or a meal, cooked from scratch.

Though American observances honoring mothers began popping up in the 1870s and 1880s, Jarvis’s campaigns were the first to make it beyond the local level. The first “official” Mother’s Day service was actually a memorial ceremony, held at Jarvis’s church, in 1908; the 500 carnations given out at that first celebration have given way to the widespread custom of distributing carnations to mothers on this day. For Anna, the floral choice was easy: Carnations were her mother’s favorite flowers.

CELEBRATING MOM: A GLOBAL HISTORY

While the modern observance of Mother’s Day began just a century ago, celebrations for women and mothers have been common throughout history. Christians have observed Mothering Sunday for centuries, while Hindus have honored “Mata Tirtha Aunshi,” or “Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight.” The first American attempts for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” arose in the 1870s, when Julia Ward Howe called on mothers to support disarmament in the Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. Several decades later, Anna Jarvis created a holiday that became the Mother’s Day we know today.

Despite Jarvis’s best efforts, though, the commercialization of Mother’s Day was inevitable: Mother’s Day is now one of the most financially successful holidays on the American calendar—mainly because it is the most popular day of the year to eat out and to make phone calls. Yet it is with Mom in mind that Americans spend $2.6 billion on flowers annually for Mother’s Day; $1.53 billion on gifts; and $68 million on greeting cards. We love you, Mom!

DIY, FOOD & MORE

Cooking Mom brunch? Look to Martha Stewart (for gift ideas, too!) and AllRecipes.

Care to care more? The Mother’s Day Movement supports women and girls in the developing world, with the belief that empowered women strongly impact the lives of their children and their communities. Help these women by donating your portion of the $14 billion spent annually on Mother’s Day.

Candlemas, Groundhog Day, Imbolc: From Phil to snowdrops, mark a trio of holidays

Groundhog Day in a field groundhog

Photo courtesy of Pixy.org

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1 and TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Today’s Groundhog Day may have evolved from the ancient festival of Imbolc, but woodland creatures and coming-of-spring myths, these days, have little to do with the observance of the Christian feast that falls one day later: It’s the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, known better as Candlemas.

Looking for Phil? The nationally-known predictions and events spurred by Punxsutawney Phil, the “official” groundhog of Groundhog Day, will be going virtual this year. (Most years, tens of thousands of visitors flock to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog Day, where “Phil” is regarded as the “one and only” weather predictor for the day.) For streaming information and more, click here.

snowdrops Candlemas Imoblc

Snowdrop flowers. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

No matter which holiday you’re celebrating, do so with the unifying themes for these first two days of February: renewal and hope. The first days of February bring new beginnings, and the Gaelic festival of Imbolc marks the start of spring.

CANDLEMAS: CANDLES, COINS AND SNOWDROPS

The feast of Candlemas focuses on the Gospel of Luke, which describes Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth. According to the gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus met a man named Simeon while at the Temple, who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and as the fulfillment of a prophesy. A woman at the temple, Anna, offered similar praise for Jesus. However, Simeon warned that Mary’s heart would someday be “pierced with a sword,” as the future would hold tragic events for her young son.

 

The Feast of the Presentation ranks as one of the oldest feasts in the church, with records of sermons dating back to the 4th century. Aside from the blessing of candles—and the widespread and abundant use of candles, too—Candlemas brings an array of delicious foods and vibrant customs!

In countries across Europe, sweet and savory crepes are made; in Mexico, piles of tamales are served, often at a party thrown by the person who found the baby Jesus trinket in an Epiphany King Cake. French tradition has it that successfully flipping a coin while making pancakes will surely bring good luck, and Candlemas Bells—early-blooming white flowers, also known as snowdrops—are believed to purify any home they are brought into today.

GROUNDHOG DAY: SEASONAL PREDICTIONS AND GOOD OL’ PHIL

On February 2, many of us ask: Will the groundhog see his shadow?

What started as an ancient pagan festival’s legends on woodland animals “testing the weather” has slowly morphed into a national phenomenon in the United States. Groundhog Day, spurred by German immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries who brought groundhog traditions with them to America, gave birth to “Punxsutawney Phil” and the array of groundhog-related events that (typically) fill lodges and streets in Pennsylvania in the first days of February each year.

IMBOLC: SPRING AND WOODLAND ANIMALS

Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere usher in February with the centuries-old Gaelic festival of Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring and the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. (Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, Lughnassadh is celebrated.) Corn dollies are made by young Pagans, while adults twist Brighid crosses. After dark, candles are lit to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

Did you know? The Irish Imbolc translates from the Old Irish imbolg, or “in the belly”—a tribute to the early spring pregnancies of ewes. As lactation begins, an array of dairy foods eaten on this day symbolizes new beginnings.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Serve from home, honor the nonviolent civil rights leader

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

MLK Jr. before crowd

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, JANUARY 18—Serve in your community—even if virtually, or by delivering something on the doorstep of a neighbor in need—and learn more about civil rights, as the nation collectively remembers the legendary life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the third Monday in January annually brings the celebration of a pivotal figure in American history who, during his lifetime, worked ceaselessly for the civil rights movement and nonviolent activism.

Click the image to access viewing options for the film

An inspiring resource: Daniel Buttry’s Interfaith Peacemakers project has published this inspiring story about Dr. King’s life. Readers are welcome to republish and share Buttry’s story about King with friends.

Looking for ways to serve from home? Check out this list of 10 at-home service projects that both children and adults can participate in, courtesy of Southeast Michigan’s Metro Parent Magazine.

Additional resources: The main federal website to get involved in MLK Day-related service is the National Service website; this year, the site also features a video on service during the time of COVID-19. Plus, there’s a helpful link to free lesson plans for kids, courtesy of Scholastic. For those looking to get creative with their service, CNN has an article on simple, at-home projects—such as crocheting, making homemade cards and putting together care packages—for MLK Day.

“MLK/FBI”: A 2021 film: MLK/FBI, a recently-released film by Emmy Award-winning director Sam Pollard, shows just how difficult it was for this nonviolent leader to speak his message, with a stark difference between our popular memory of the civil rights movement and its complex history. According to an article from the Smithsonian, the film is based on newly discovered and declassified files, and ” … tells the story of the FBI’s surveillance and harassment of King, and explores the contested meaning behind some of our most cherished ideals.”

Additionally, the Smithsonian’s History Film Forum is hosting a related virtual event—a conversation with Pollard, along with Larry Rubin, a former field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)—today, on January 18.

MLK DAY: A HISTORY

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929. He became a Baptist pastor and helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, serving as its first president. In 1963, King helped to organize the March on Washington and, there, delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.

When a bill was introduced for a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, some representatives argued that an additional paid holiday would be too expensive and that Dr. King, having never held public office, was ineligible. Supporters of the bill began rallying the public, and when Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday” in 1980 to raise awareness of the campaign, 6 million signatures were collected. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that established a federal holiday on November 2, 1983. The holiday was first observed in 1986, and today, Americans are urged to honor the “King Day of Service” by spending the day doing something Dr. King viewed as unparalleled: serving others.

COOK THIS: A FAVORED FOOD OF DR. KING

Feed the Spirit: Journalist, author and activist Desiree Cooper writes this FeedTheSpirit column about one of Dr. King’s favorite foods—sweet potato pie—and includes a delicious recipe.

Kwanzaa: Honor seven principles, unity, values on Festival of the First Fruits

Kwanzaa kinara, gifts, graphic image

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 26: Gather in the name of unity and learn the seven principles—today begins the seven-day commemoration of Kwanzaa.

Each year, Kwanzaa founder Dr. Maulana Karenga publishes an annual message. Now in his late 70s, these messages are heart-felt appeals to rediscovering and reclaiming African values that can contribute to the wellbeing of the whole world.

In his 2019 message, he stressed practicing good throughout the year, and the concept of living the Kwanzaa principles in all seasons. Karenga wrote, in part:

Kwanzaa’s origins are both ancient and modern and both sources serve to urge us to constantly strive and struggle to be ourselves and free ourselves, to live good lives and to bring forth the best of what it means to be African and human as both a personal and social practice. Kwanzaa’s rootedness in ancient African first fruit or first harvest celebrations offers a framework of activities that are not simply seasonal, but are all-season practices of building family and community, preserving and expanding culture, and doing good in and for the world. For it is a people-focused, environmentally caring and morally concerned holiday dedicated to cultivating, harvesting and sharing good in the world.

His 2020 message will appear just before Kwanzaa begins in the festival’s official website.

ORIGINS OF THE FESTIVAL

Created by Karenga in the mid-1960s as the first completely African-American holiday, Kwanzaa celebrations honor African heritage and culture. Though originally associated with the black nationalist movement, as Karenga today points out that Kwanzaa emphasizes connecting Africans of the Diaspora with their native roots and highlighting the universal themes in those ancient cultures that can build a healthier global community.

Specifically, Kwanzaa’s “seven principles” call to mind what Karenga refers to as a “communitarian African philosophy.”

KWANZAA’S SEVEN PRINCIPLES

Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a principle, resulting in a total of seven Kwanzaa principles. The principles, though they may vary slightly in spellings, consist of: Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kumbaa (creativity); and Imani (faith).

Kwanzaa urges participants to maintain unity in family and race, to define themselves, to build community and profit together, and to always do what is possible at the moment. Symbols and decorations aid in the unity of Kwanzaa observances, such as a decorative mat (mkeka), corn, a seven-candle holder (kinara) and a communal or unity cup. Often, an African feast—known as Karamu—is held on the sixth day of Kwanzaa, and gifts (zawadi) are exchanged on the seventh day.

CUSTOMS, RECIPES & MORE

Teachers and parents: You’ll find a couple of kid-oriented resources from Scholastic.com. First, there’s a lesson plan on discussing Kwanzaa’s principles and, then, there’s a second plan that also features a mancala game.

In its nearly half-a-century of observance, Kwanzaa has spread in popularity throughout the United States and into Canada.

Hungry for a taste of Kwanzaa? Find recipes for traditional dishes, from sweet potatoes and collard greens to black-eyed peas, at Food Network and GenuisKitchen.com.

Behind the Plymouth 400 story: Summoning ‘Thanksgiving’ in the midst of a deadly epidemic

A HEARTBREAKING MAP: In 1605, explorer Samuel de Champlain had this detailed map drawn of the thriving Wampanoag village he visited along the shoreline where Pilgrims would land 15 years later. Between de Champlain’s visit and that historic 1620 landing by the Pilgrims, a virulent epidemic had raged through Wampanoag tribal lands that killed virtually all of the men, women and children in this particular village. The disease, an infection with symptoms similar to smallpox, was the result of early contacts with Europeans that spread the epidemic throughout the native communities. As the Pilgrims landed in 1620, they soon realized they were moving into what amounted to a ghost town. When Pilgrims explored the village’s ruins, they found ghastly evidence of the epidemic, including unburied skeletons of the last few native men and women to die.

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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 26: Thanksgiving in 2020 will undoubtedly look different, but that doesn’t mean Americans won’t still be counting our blessings. After all, the tradition stretches back more than 400 years on this continent.

Houses of worship across the country are encouraging Americans from their websites, offering a hopeful message in spite of the pandemic: “Give thanks anyway!”

In a Time of Pandemic, Recalling How Our Ancestors Coped

Most Thanksgiving holiday stories in schools, newspapers and magazines focus on the collision of cultures between natives and newcomers—and the exchanges of natural resources. The legacy of Columbus’s arrival in 1492 in the Caribbean ignited a series of “first encounters” that swept along the Atlantic shorelines of the American continents for more than a century.

The Smithsonian Institution’s educators summed up this revolutionary century under the theme Seeds of Change, which is the title of the Smithsonian’s superb book about this world-changing period. The discovery of new resources changed lives in both Old and New Worlds. Europeans had never seen a potato or tomato—which became defining staples of European cuisine—until after 1492. Natives of the Americas had never seen a horse until Europeans shipped them across the Atlantic from Europe—giving rise to the zenith of the Great Plains Indian nations. Without this collision of peoples, great advances in both continental cultures would not have been possible.

In its current Thanksgiving resource page for educators, the Smithsonian focuses on food and cultural traditions, describing the theme as: “From local harvest festival to national holiday, here are art and objects in the spirit of giving thanks.” (Note: If you’re looking for wonderful images to share on social media, check out that Smithsonian link! It’s a visual treasure trove.)

However, there’s much more to the Thanksgiving story in Plymouth, which is the focus of a worldwide 400th-anniversary celebration. (And, yes, there’s more on that 400th anniversary, below.)

A NEW VILLAGE ARISES IN A GHOST TOWN—For lessons about the Plymouth settlement, blue-colored notes have been added to de Champlain’s 1605 map showing locations relevant to the 1620 Pilgrim arrival. The blue star is the center of the subsequent Plymouth Colony.

So, what is the little-known story?

In 2020, the largely untold story of Thanksgiving is that the early banquet in Plymouth was held in the new town Pilgrims were building on—which was essentially a native burial ground.

Schoolchildren know about the historic meeting of Pilgrims and Wampanoags, often illustrated as healthy and co-existing in two thriving communities. However, such images do not capture the real setting of that first banquet.

When the Pilgrims finally decided to set up their new home near Plymouth Beach, the bustling Wampanoag village that explorer Samuel  de Champlain had visited in 1605 was a ghost town. Fortunately, as the early Pilgrims cleared the ruins of the former native village, they were sensitive enough to halt their excavations in mounds where they found the natives’ human remains. In that earliest wave of settlement, their decision to halt such digging was respected by native people, even though the Pilgrims knew very little about these neighbors.

That’s not to diminish the fears and the dangerous violence that did break out between these newcomers and the people who had inhabited the lands for centuries. For example, one of the earliest encounters between the two peoples was a skirmish that included gunfire from the settlers.

The main reason greater violence was avoided is that most people were too sick to even think about fighting. Not only had the native people been suffering from lethal waves of contagion in the previous decade—decimating the Wampanoag and leaving their village at Plymouth abandoned—but the Pilgrims were similarly beset by devastating disease.

According to the surviving accounts, most of the Mayflower passengers and crew were seriously ill upon arrival. Many also were suffering from the effects of scurvy. Half of the new arrivals would die during the first winter. During the worst of the sickness, only a half dozen of the group were still healthy enough to feed and care for the rest. It was a desperate, life-and-death struggle. When the handful of physically able Pilgrims finished their community’s first house, it immediately became a hospital for ill Pilgrims. At the same time, the Pilgrims had to stake out and begin filling their own cemetery—on a grassy prominence above the beach.

The miracle is that there was any kind of “thanksgiving” meal at all in 1621! Historians say that, whatever the details of that first Plymouth observance, it was against long odds that anyone was still alive to celebrate.

That’s why, in 2020 and in the midst of a global pandemic, we can appreciate the larger miracle surrounding the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving: Every person in that region—native and newcomer alike—had been been living with the constant threat of lethal contagion. A mere 52 of the 102 Mayflower passengers survived the first year in Plymouth and were, therefore, able to celebrate the communal meal. The native people who participated were coming to a site filled with the ghosts of their own native families.

And still, as remarkable as it was—they managed to summon a spirit of gratitude and expressed thanksgiving together.

In 2020, the idea of gathering virtually with family and friends will be bittersweet. In addition to missing their in-person traditions, hundreds of thousands of families will remember loved ones who have perished from COVID since the 2019 year-end holidays.

Remembering those grieving and ailing natives and newcomers who gathered in Plymouth to give thanks four centuries ago may help to strengthen our own resolve.

Still—in the midst of our pandemic today—Americans will summon a spirit of gratitude and will give thanks.

Tall ship in harbor Mayflower

The replica ship Mayflower II in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

400 YEARS IN THE MAKING: A THANKSGIVING HISTORY

Interested in learning more about the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s landing in Plymouth? The official website of the Plymouth 400 Commemoration offers educational resources and articles. From the UK, the Mayflower400 will offer, now through 2021, examinations of history from multiple angles, the experiences of those impacted by the Mayflower’s landing and more. From the Plimouth Plantation, an organization and museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, commemorations will be held and new exhibits and resources offered.

That first Thanksgiving celebration melded two very different cultures. For the Wampanoag, giving thanks for the Creator’s gifts was an established custom. For European Pilgrims, English harvest festivals were about rejoicing, and after the bountiful harvest of 1621 and amicable relations between the Wampanoag and the Europeans, no one could deny the desire for a plentiful shared feast. The “first” Thanksgiving took place over three days, and was attended by approximately 50 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

By the 1660s, an annual harvest festival was being held in New England. Often, church leaders proclaimed the Thanksgiving holiday. Later, public officials joined with religious leaders in declaring such holidays. The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving in 1777, and just over one decade later, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration, as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” National Thanksgiving proclamations were made by various presidents through the decades, falling in and out of favor until Sarah Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. Still, it wasn’t until 1941 that Thanksgiving was established permanently as the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving parade float

Both the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and America’s Thanksgiving Parade will be held this year, but spectators will be enjoying them virtually. Photo by Brecht Bug, courtesy of Flickr

FOOTBALL AND (VIRTUAL) PARADES & TURKEY TROTS

The National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving Day since its creation—and that tradition will continue in 2020. In 1924, Americans enjoyed the inauguration of both the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” held annually in New York City, and “America’s Thanksgiving Parade,” held in Detroit; this year, neither parade is cancelled, but both are discouraging or prohibiting spectators and offering, instead, virtual viewing options. In 2020, the theme for America’s Thanksgiving Parade will be “We Are One Together,” and will honor frontline workers and heroes of the COVID-19 crisis. Across the U.S., several cities host an annual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, welcoming runners of all ages to burn off some calories in anticipation of the day’s feast; this year, most of those events are being conducted virtually.

If you’re not up for making a time-intensive pie crust this year or have always secretly hated Aunt Betty’s yams, this is your opportunity to try something new! A Los Angeles Times article claims that pie can be outdone by something else this year—and offers three tempting alternatives—while another article’s headline proclaims that “It’s out with the old, in with the new for Thanksgiving 2020.” So go ahead—give yourself permission to try something new!

Recipes, décor and more: Find an assortment of recipes and menus (plus an at-home celebration guide) from Food Network, AllRecipes, Food & Wine and Epicurious.

Thanksgiving crafts: Adults can create DIY décor with help from HGTV, and kids can be entertained before the big dinner with craft suggestions from Parents, Parenting and Disney.