A newspaper’s opinion page can be depressing. Let’s be thankful today. This is, after all, Thanksgiving.
The holiday commonly is associated with a feast shared by the pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians in 1622. According to the website About.com, 46 of the 102 pilgrims had died during the previous year, but the next harvest had been bountiful and the pilgrims decided to celebrate with their Native American neighbors, who had taught them how to live in the New World.
There is no record of the meal being called a “thanksgiving” feast, and we do not know if anyone ate turkey. An official thanksgiving feast would be declared the next year by Massachusetts Governor William Bradford after the pilgrims had survived a drought.
It would take hundreds of years for the holiday to take root. George Washington proclaimed a national Thanksgiving holiday in 1789, the first year the U.S. government had operated under the Constitution, but it didn’t become a yearly event. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War, and future presidents followed suit after 1869. Franklin Roosevelt signed a law in 1941 that officially made November’s fourth Thursday our national Thanksgiving Day. At the time, the Great Depression hadn’t ended, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor was less than two weeks away.
This Thanksgiving, as in those previous years, Americans will have much to celebrate even in the midst of national challenges – if they choose to do so. They shared about 46 million turkeys weighing around 16 pounds apiece in 2011, according to the National Turkey Federation. That’s 736 million pounds of turkey, or more than two pounds for every American. By comparison, the average Bangladeshi ate less than nine pounds of meat in 2007, according to an analysis in 2012 by The Economist.
More reasons to look on the bright side? This year, most Americans will eat that turkey in a home that they or their loved ones own, or at least are making payments to own. That’s because 65 percent of us are homeowners, according to the Census Bureau. Families will arrive at Grandma’s house much more safely than they have in the past, too. While traffic fatalities did increase last year for the first time since 2005, the fatality rate per million miles traveled has decreased significantly through the years, from 5.18 in 1963 to 1.14 in 2012.
Once those families arrive at Grandma’s, teenagers are less likely to sneak off with someone’s beer, because alcohol use among that age group is at “historically low levels,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Because smoking by high school students has been dropping since 1996-97, they also are less likely to borrow some adult’s cigarettes.
Consider what the world was like when Americans sat down to Thanksgiving dinner 25 years ago in 1988. The Berlin Wall had yet to fall, hundreds of millions of people still lived behind the Iron Curtain, and China was a little more than six months away from the massacre of Tiananmen Square. A large percentage of the world lived under despotic dictatorships. The AIDS epidemic was spreading, and no one knew how it would be contained.
None of this is meant to deny today’s problems or pretend that yesterday’s have been solved. But the pilgrims didn’t relentlessly focus on the negative, and neither should we – certainly not today. Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy your turkey.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.