Mayor’s Message: The celebration of Thanksgiving

In this week's Mayor's Message, Mayor Louis Manzo talks about the history and his personal adoration of Thanksgiving.

I love Thanksgiving for a lot of reasons beyond the traditional feast of turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings. I love the change of season and the prelude to the Christmas season. I love the four-day weekend and football games. But most of all, I love the traditions connected to family and friends that have defined the thanksgiving holiday for generations. Known as an American celebration, Thanksgiving is actually celebrated in several other countries; in most cases having spread there from America. In China, however, they recognize the Mid-Autumn Festival, which similarly originated as a holiday to express gratitude for the changing of the seasons and to celebrate the fall harvest. But this festival dates back 2500 years.

Our tradition is rooted in the original European settlements in North America in the early 1600’s. Jamestown, Virginia was the first permanent settlement in 1607 and they held a thanksgiving celebration in 1610. However, the most prominent historic thanksgiving event in American popular culture is the 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, where the settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. This original feast included 50 pilgrims, who were Mayflower passengers, along with 90 Native Americans. Autumn or early winter feasts continued sporadically in later years, first as a religious observance and later as a civil tradition.

As our nation formed through revolution, the Continental Congress proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving in 1777. In the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the 26, the final Thursday of November, in 1863. Traditions varied in America until late 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill fixing the day of recognition as the fourth Thursday in November beginning in 1942.

In the nearly 80 years since, our grandparents and parents have instilled a sense of family and dedication in all of us that is worthy of our collective gratitude. Thanksgiving Day has become the embodiment of that gratitude. It is the busiest travel holiday in the country, with 55 million people projected to make their way to family gatherings this year. Nationally, parades and fireworks are common, along with football games featuring rivalries from the high school and college level to the NFL.

Back in 2012, we intentionally moved our tree-lighting ceremony to the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend to deepen that family experience. On the heels of your version of Turkey Day and Black Friday shopping or merriment, in Mullica Hill we gather on Main Street with our community family. Make no mistake about it, Lights on Main is a family celebration like no other. Thousands of us flood the street with family and friends we’ve invited to join us. Our college-age kids now make it a point to attend the event because it keeps them connected to home; to their family.

Adding to my list of things I love about Thanksgiving is everything about our hometown vibe. Nothing like it! I know you agree. Happy Thanksgiving weekend to you and your family.