By Sharla Kattenberg
As we pause to reflect on the Thanksgiving Day holiday this year, our thoughts turns to food production and the American producers–both manufacturers and farmers. Located in South Dakota, we are surrounded by harvested fields of stubble. The shorn corn and soybean fields are testaments to another successful crop, as well as to the hard work of America’s farmers and the manufacturers who built the equipment.
Before this year, we had always assumed Thanksgiving Day was a uniquely American holiday. The holiday celebrates America’s abundance resulting from our hard work and ingenuity. It also honors the perseverance and hardiness of our country’s first settlers, the Pilgrims.
We only recently realized that the Pilgrims did not invent Thanksgiving Day. They were simply honoring a holiday they had previously celebrated in their English homeland, the English Harvest Festival.
And the English Harvest Festival had its own roots threading back to the dawn of human civilization.
Before modern times, all food was local. So life itself rested on the quality of the crop harvested in the fields immediately surrounding the community. Lack of infrastructure like roads, railroads, and shipping meant grain could not be transported. A drought and failed crop in one region led to starvation and death for that community, even if the neighboring area received plenty of rain and a bountiful harvest.
Interestingly, a local famine was experienced right in America as recently as the 1800’s (the era my kids refer to as the “Olden Days” … it’s the era they think I grew up in). In the summer of 1816, atmospheric dust from a massive Indonesian volcanic eruption caused global cooling.
Americans called it “The Year Without a Summer.” In the northern states, late spring frosts and early autumn cooling caused massive crop failure. While the harvest was good in the southern states, there was no way to transport massive amounts of grain from the South to the North. So northern Americans starved.
It makes sense, then, that historically all communities throughout the world held festivals celebrating a good harvest. A good harvest meant life.
Knowing the history of Thanksgiving Day, we now have a deeper appreciation as we watch the golden corn harvested from our South Dakota fields. It is awesome seeing it transported to storage, where it’s tucked safely away, waiting for distribution to the entire nation and the wider world.
We are grateful for everyone who makes the abundance of an American Thanksgiving possible. We thank the farmers for their long hours in the fields, the manufacturers for producing the farm equipment, and the myriad Americans working in industries that build and maintain America’s roads, railroad system, and shipping industry.