Thanksgiving: Rooted in Agriculture, Family, Tradition

In today’s fast-paced world filled with busy schedules, it sometimes seems like it takes extra effort to gather with friends and family for a day of rest and reflection. However, nestled between the costumes and candy of Halloween and the bright bows and lights of Christmas, most people find one Thursday in November to sit down to a hearty meal and share the day with family and friends and hopefully reflect on what they are most thankful for.

But, what does that have to do with the agriculture industry? Everything. Although, a “google” search will offer several conflicting results on the history of this November holiday, most school children are taught that Thanksgiving was started after the Pilgrims came off the Mayflower and settled at Plymouth, Mass., in the 1620s. After their first successful corn harvest, the Pilgrims and Natives had a feast of thankfulness for their year of survival and for their first harvest in the new world. Others claim that European settlers to North America held a similar “feast” in current-day Florida nearly a century earlier, but for similar reasons – giving thanks for their crops they had harvested.

Regardless of when and where Thanksgiving was first celebrated, President Abraham Lincoln scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday of November in 1863, during the height of the Civil War. It was celebrated that day every year until 1939, according to, “when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.”

Today, Thanksgiving is very similar to that first gathering of the Pilgrims and Natives in Plymouth, Mass. Family and friends come together for a day of “feasting” to share a meal and give thanks for their blessings at the end of the harvest. Although, with extreme weather and early snows, there are often farmers still in the fields on and after Thanksgiving, which might be true in 2018. Families often make large meals of favorite family recipes thanks to the agriculture producers who have provided throughout the year.

For one family in Texas, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate tradition. Kelly (Ross) Tanner said her dad was very set in tradition, and that is something he instilled in her, and she is hoping she and her husband, Marty, are creating and passing timeless traditions on to their sons Tucker and Kayden.

“My dad passed away in 2012, but tradition was everything to him. We would have skeet shooting every Thanksgiving morning. My dad would never have Thanksgiving at anybody else’s house – especially in town – because they didn’t have land to skeet shoot. But that tradition will go the wayside this year since we moved to our new place,” Kelly said.

However, one tradition that won’t go away is opening her home and cooking with family. Kelly’s dad always invited friends over, and in that same tradition, so do the Tanners. Kelly said she is even having relatives of some close family friends over that she’s never met, but she is always excited to make new friends and share her home and meals with others.

“Dad never wanted anyone to eat alone. We’ve always opened our home. There’s never less than 15-20 people in our home for Thanksgiving. My dad was always that way – if somebody didn’t have a place to go, they were coming to the Ross’s. We’ve had friends and friends of friends,” Kelly said with a smile.

In that same sense of giving and sharing, Kelly said her family likes to give of its time around Thanksgiving to the local soup kitchen or food banks, just another tradition she is passing on to her boys.

“We try to live by scripture in 2 Corinthians 9:11, ‘You’ll be enriched in every way, so you can always be generous, and when you take your gifts to other people, they will thank God for what they have.’  Giving back is important, and we try to incorporate that into our lives,” Kelly said.

Perhaps one of her favorite parts of the Thanksgiving holiday is spending time in the kitchen with her family. She and her mom, along with her boys all enjoy spending the day before preparing everyone’s favorite side dishes. Kelly makes homemade dinner rolls every year – a recipe her first grade teacher passed down to her.

Family and family recipes tie several families together at Thanksgiving – just like those first Pilgrims that came over on the Mayflower. For Kenna Rathai, Saint Anne, Ill., it’s her mom’s stuffing recipe. Like many experienced cooks, Kenna’s mom didn’t have a written recipe – she had created her own over time with a dab of this and a pinch of that.

“When she started to get dementia, I sat with her and we ‘wrote’ a recipe for it. She would add ingredients by the teaspoon or cup or whatever, we kept track of it and when it ‘felt right’ or ‘tasted right’ to her, we’d record the measurement,” Kenna said. “We now all have the recipe and it’s just not Thanksgiving without it. And, she still does help with making it!”

Cooking the meal with her grandmother is a favorite memory for Kimberly King in Centreville, Md.

“My grandmother loved Thanksgiving. We would always cook it together. She made the best stuffing. When we took the turkey out of the oven we would always sneak some stuffing before we covered the turkey to rest,” Kimberly recalls. “She passed away last month, and I can’t wait to sneak some stuffing for her this Thanksgiving. I know she will be right there with me.”

The Tanners will also be celebrating this Thanksgiving with one less around their table in 2018. Their oldest son Tucker is teaching and mentoring youth in at a boarding school in the remote Alaskan village of Galena. Kelly is still planning to ship him some of his favorite sides and a turkey.

“I’m 47 years old and I have never spent a Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve without my parents. That’s a blessing. It’s going to be tough without Tucker, this year,” Kelly said.

“Tradition is important. I think it should be to every family. I think I push it so much because I have boys and no girls, and I know there is going to be a time, probably pretty quickly, that they won’t be home every Thanksgiving or every Christmas; they are going to have to split it with wives. It’s something I’m trying to hold onto as long as I can,” Kelly said.

Thanksgiving. It’s one day of the year when we can truly reflect on giving thanks for agriculture, traditions and family. Yes, chores have to be done. Livestock must be tended to. But, the reality is that we need a day to “feast” and give thanks for what really matters on that fourth Thursday in November.

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