Thanksgiving is right around the corner.
Growing up, I always struggled to understand exactly what I was supposed to give “thanks” for or to. Was it my Six-Million Dollar Man doll (with the bionic eye)? Was it that I had a home and warm clothes? Was it my parents? When I was older, I associated Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims. You remember the Pilgrims, right? They were those weirdo’s with the goofy hats who ate corn with the Native Americans back in the good old days of the 1620s. Their Thanksgiving, which most likely did not include turkey, was intended to give thanks for a good harvest.
It really wasn’t until President George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God” that it changed from a harvest-based celebration to one that encompassed pretty much everything. President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation in 1863 that Thanksgiving was to be regularly commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a joint resolution with Congress, changed the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday. They did this for purely economic reasons. In those Novembers with five Thursdays, it shortened the Christmas shopping season.
Anyway, I bring all this up because I sometimes wonder how often we give thanks for just being alive. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I started to research my family tree back in 2006. What I found surprised me. My guess is that if you took the time to look into your family history, you’ll see how lucky you were, too.
I am one of two children by my parents Howard and Judith. Both are now deceased but both played an important role in my life. They had me. In the 1960s, the decade my sister and I were born, the average number of children per family was 2.6. I have a half-brother out there somewhere so the 2.6 figure is pretty spot-on. My father, born in 1919, was an only child. Correction: he was the only child to survive. His parents, Frederick and Rose, had six total but my Dad’s five siblings all died young – most likely from influenza (a reason to get your flu shot!). Frederick, my grandfather, was the only child of his parents Orange and Minerva. On my paternal side, my sister and I were very lucky, indeed. We survived generations of single-point failures.
My mother’s side of the family was a bit more robust. Her parents, Raymond and Ruth, had four children. My grandfather Raymond’s parents, Alfred and Ellen, had six. On my grandmother’s side, her ancestry shows that life can overcome significant risk. She is a direct descendant of Edward Bangs, the Pilgrim who traveled to America aboard the Anne in 1623. That he made it out of England during a time of religious persecution is one thing, that he made it to America without begin lost at sea another. On top of that, he and his fellow passengers survived threat of starvation and the Native American population who did not necessarily enjoy their company. Further back, my mother’s family history can be traced to the fourteenth century. What happened then? You guessed it: the Black Death. According to most estimates, the plague killed between 75 and 200 million people in Eurasia. The fact that my ancestors managed to survive when their families and friends succumbed to the disease is pretty amazing.
My family has participated in – and survived – the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. My Dad was a tail gunner who flew missions over Asia-Pacific in the years before Enola Gay dropped the bomb. Had he been shot out the sky, I wouldn’t be here.
You all have histories similar to mine and I hope you feel as fortunate as I do. Your family, like mine, persevered through some pretty significant world history… yet here you are. This is definitely something to be thankful for. Keep that in mind as you head into the holiday season. Thanksgiving is the traditional beginning of the holiday season, despite the Hallmark Channel’s attempt at pushing it to Halloween. It’s also the time of year that many of us feel the most stressed. So, when you’re feeling frazzled or downright blue, remember your ancestors. It is because of them that you are here.
They wouldn’t have put in all that effort if you weren’t important.