Thanksgiving celebrated at Rotary meeting

Somerset West Rotary president Frank Freeman, centre, with guests Brent and Benjie Heyns.

The Somerset West Rotary Club did not have a speaker last week as, by the Presidential Decree of Frank Freeman, it transported the club to the USA for a special Thanksgiving dinner, although as a staunch Democrat it is doubtful whether President Frank will be giving thanks for President Donald…

Frank welcomed both members and guests before he sang the traditional Thanksgiving prayer, Handel’s Praise Be to Thee.

Guest Jen Weeden gave an illustrated history of Thanksgiving, which she has made a special study of, and she shared the following insights.

When the Pilgrim Fathers left England on the Mayflower, their destination was the Colony of Virginia, but storms drove them northwards and they landed at Cape Cod.

One month later the survivors of the Atlantic crossing sailed across Massachusetts Bay, and settled at what became the village of Plymouth, named after the city they left England from.

Thanksgiving was based on harvest festivals, and there are records of thanksgiving services and feasts in the Colony of Virginia, as well as those American lands claimed by the Spanish and French, well before the Mayflower set out.

The new colonists made a peace treaty with the Wampanoag tribe, which lasted for 50 years, who showed them how to harvest corn and pumpkins so that they survived their first winter. After a good harvest, in 1621, the Native Americans and Pilgrims joined together for a three day feast of venison, seal, fowl, barley and maize. As yet they did not have potatoes or tomatoes, which, although American in origin, had not reached that far North.

George Washington declared November 26 as Thanksgiving Day in 1789, because until then each of the new States, had their own separate day.

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879), who wrote the nursery rhyme Mary had a little lamb began to campaign for a National Thanksgiving Holiday, in 1827, and Abe Lincoln, who was influenced by Ms Hale, finally chose the fourth Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving in 1863.

Each following president also made a declaration of which day was to be Thanksgiving Day, until President Franklin D Roosevelt, in 1941, finally made the 4th Friday in November the official Thanksgiving Day, by Act of Congress, against the opposition of the Republicans, and for a while they celebrated on a different day to Democrats.

President Kennedy was the first to pardon a turkey, and President George Bush Senior made it an official duty, in 1989.

There are a variety of ways to celebrate the holiday, from watching American football, and other sports, travelling for family get togethers, Macy’s Parade in New York, to doing charitable work in homeless shelters, but the binding tradition is that everyone present round the table gives a reason for being grateful.

This gathering was no different, and club members and guests explained what they had to be thankful for. The words spoken by young Benjie Heynes, who was thankful for so much, but asked for so little for himself, resonated well throughout the meeting.

Mervyn Cole is the public relations director for Somerset West Rotary Club.