The national holiday of Thanksgiving was first suggested in 1789, by George Washington. It did not reach its lofty national status until the 1860s. But the origins of Thanksgiving predate George Washington's recommendation by more than 150 years. The first Thanksgiving, as legend has it, was celebrated by the pilgrims who settled the New World around the dawn of the seventeenth century. They were thankful to God almighty for the blessings bestowed upon them in their new home, thus making Thanksgiving one of the only remaining national holidays with its roots in the spiritual world. Even Atheists celebrate this national day of thanks, although I always wondered who it is they are thanking.
Many myths about the first Thanksgiving persist, the most widely held one is that the pilgrims had such a bountiful harvest because of the farming skills taught to them by the local natives. Actually, even though the pilgrims received some valuable farming tips from the natives, they weren't totally helpless and it was not the kindness of the native population that saved them from certain extinction in the New World.
Governor Bradford originally set up the colony to be a co-op, where the harvest was shared equally among all the colonists. Not only was the harvest communal, but so were the houses and other structures, no matter who was responsible for their construction. Mr. Bradford quickly found, as everyone does who implements this type of system, that the work was not being accomplished. With no personal incentive to work hard and own the fruits of their own labor, even these puritanical and spiritual people succumbed to the sloth that is inherent in a socialist system. I recall an episode of the sitcom Taxi where the Reverend Jim, a 1960s burnout, talked about a commune on which he lived. He said they farmed and raised animals and everyone did their own thing. When asked why it disintegrated, he said it turned out every one's thing was sitting around getting loaded. Reverend Jim's fictional commune and that of the real first pilgrims did not share a problem with drugs and alcohol, but did share human nature. And human nature teaches that if everyone is getting an equal share, even the more industrious will not put forth their best effort.
Governor Bradford solved his problem by splitting up the land into plots over which each family had complete control, and benefited from the harvest of their land. This led to an over-abundance during the harvest, which they were able to share with the native people. They were also able to pay off, ahead of schedule, the overseas investors who sponsored their trip. They learned a valuable lesson about how working in one's own self-interest benefits the entire society. This is because there is more motivation to work hard when the individual is able to keep the fruits of his own labor.
There are many things for which to be grateful on this day. Gratitude itself is the essence of a happy and well-lived life. If you find yourself in good health, be grateful that your health isn't poor. If you find yourself in poor health, be grateful for the opportunity to improve your condition. If you have enough money to pay your bills and be generous with others, be thankful for that blessing. If your paycheck runs out before your bills or you are unemployed, be thankful that you live a country where these conditions do not have to be permanent. No matter how dark the hour may seem, their is always some sliver of light for which to be thankful. And finally, be thankful for those pilgrims long ago who gave us the basis for the freest, most prosperous and exceptional nation in the history of the world.