November, 2010 NEWSLETTER 

More Than You Want to Know About Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving of the Virginia colony

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which comprised about 8,000 acres on the north bank of the James River, near Herring Creek, in an area then known as Charles Cittie, about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established on May 14, 1607.

The group's charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a "day of thanksgiving" to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodleaf held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

During the Indian Massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundreds were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.

After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantation, and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634, it became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, as Charles City County, one of the oldest in the United States, and is located along Virginia State Route 5, which runs parallel to the river's northern borders past sites of many of the James River Plantations between the colonial capital city of Williamsburg (now the site of Colonial Williamsburg) and the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia at Richmond.

Thanksgiving observed by the Pilgrims at Plymouth

The modern Thanksgiving holiday traces its origins from a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the Plymouth settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. This was continued in later years, first as an impromptu religious observance, and later as a civil tradition.

Squanto, a Patuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them (Squanto had learned English while enslaved in Europe and during travels in England). Additionally the Wampanoag leader Massasoit had caused food stores to be donated to the fledgling colony during the first winter when supplies brought from England were insufficient. The Pilgrims set apart a day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance; harvest festivals existed in English and Wampanoag tradition alike. Several colonists gave personal accounts of the 1621 feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims, most of whom were Separatists, are not to be confused with Puritans who established their own Massachusetts Bay Colony nearby (current day Boston) in 1628 and had very different religious beliefs.[6]

William Bradford, in Of Plymouth Plantation:

Thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity. They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.


Edward Winslow, in Mourt's Relation:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

The Pilgrims held an even greater Thanksgiving celebration in 1623, after a switch from communal farming to privatized farming, a fast, and a refreshing 14-day rain resulted in a larger harvest. William DeLoss Love calculates that this thanksgiving was made on Wednesday, July 30, 1623, a day prior to the arrival of a supply ship with more colonists, but prior to the harvest. In Love's opinion, this 1623 thanksgiving was significant because the order to recognize the event was from civil authority (Governor Bradford) and not from the church, making it likely the first civil recognition of Thanksgiving in New England.

Referring to the 1623 harvest after the nearly catastrophic drought, Bradford wrote:

And afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving… By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine now God gave them plenty … for which they blessed God. And the effect of their particular planting was well seen, for all had … pretty well … so as any general want or famine had not been amongst them since to this day.

 – William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

Irregular Thanksgivings continued after favorable events and days of fasting after unfavorable ones. In the Plymouth tradition, a thanksgiving day was primarily a church observance, rather than a feast day. But thanksgiving days did have a civil observance linked to the religious one, as in 1623. Gradually, an annual Thanksgiving after the harvest developed in the mid-17th century. This did not occur on any set day or necessarily on the same day in different colonies in America. 

Finally on October 6, 1941, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution fixing the traditional last-Thursday date for the holiday beginning in 1942. However, in December of that year the Senate passed an amendment to the resolution that split the difference by requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes (less frequently) the next to last. On December 26, 1941 President Roosevelt signed this bill, for the first time making the date of Thanksgiving a matter of federal law.

Since 1947, or possibly earlier, the National Turkey Federation has presented the President of the United States with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys, in a ceremony known as the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. The live turkey is pardoned and lives out the rest of its days on a peaceful farm. While it is commonly held that this pardoning tradition began with Harry Truman in 1947, the Truman Library has been unable to find any evidence for this. The earliest on record is with George H. W. Bush in 1989. Still others claim that the tradition dates back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. Both stories have been quoted in more recent presidential speeches. In more recent years, two turkeys have been pardoned, in case the original turkey becomes unavailable for presidential pardoning.

All of us at wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving celebration.



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My Favorite Fig Filled Cookies
     Worth the extra work! 


         2 1/2 C all-purpose flour

         1/3 C white sugar

         1/4 t baking powder

         1/2 C shortening

         2 T butter

         1/2 C milk

         1 egg, beaten


         1 1/2 C dried figs

         3/4 C golden raisins

         1/4 C slivered almonds

         1/4 C white sugar

         1/4 C hot water

         1/4 t ground cinnamon

         1 pinch ground black pepper (I leave this out)


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, 1/3 cup sugar and baking powder. Cut in shortening and butter until mixture resembles small peas. Stir in the milk and egg until the dough comes together. Divide dough into two pieces, wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours or until easy to handle.
  2. In a food processor or blender, grind the figs, raisins and almonds until they are coarsely chopped. In a medium bowl, stir together the 1/4 cup of sugar, hot water, cinnamon and pepper. Stir in the fruit mixture, cover and set aside until the dough is ready.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of the dough out to a 12 inch square. Cut each piece into 12 3x4 inch rectangles. Using a heaping tablespoon of filling for each rectangle, spread filling along one of the short sides of the rectangle. Roll up from that side. Place rolls, seam side down, on an ungreased cookie sheet. Curve each roll slightly. Snip outer edge of the curve three times.
  5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Glaze with your favorite confectioners' glaze.

La Piazza is the Center of Daily Life in Italy

Facciamo l’amore, non facciamo la guerra! (Make love, not war!) This is the typical Italian way of enjoying life. To the Italian, leisure time plays an important part of the day. Groups of people can be seen congregating in la Piazza at the local café to have a cappuccino or gelato. La Piazza is the heart of the town and is usually surrounded by the most important buildings: the church, the town hall, theaters, and cafés. The piazza is the meeting point for social encounters and the place for commercial activities such as the open market.

The piazza is a rendezvous for la passeggiata and the culminating point for the leisurely Italian stroll that is taken during la serata (early evening). This is the time especially when I caffé fill to the brim with the locals, who discussed politics, love affairs, and sports. It is a time to gossip about neighbors and to boast and brag about one's own exploits or those of one's family. Italians are careful to select the styles and fashions of clothing that they will sport at la passeggiata, since all are aware of the impressions they will make on each other. Adesso é il tempo di ammirare ed essere ammirati! (Now is the time to admire and the time to be admired!) Couples hold hands and throw coins in the fountain at the center of the square, thus keeping alive centuries’ old traditions of well-wishing and good luck.

La Piazza never sleeps and therefore never closes. Children may be kicking a soccer ball around and older people may be playing bocce (a game similar to lawn below bowling) or cards, or reading newspapers while taking a few puffs of their favorite cigarettes or cigars. I giovanotti (the young people) ride into la piazza on the latest and most stylish motorini (mopeds) or in machine sportive (sports cars).

The piazza is the political arena for anyone seeking political endorsements or exposure. Is a place for festivals, religious processions, and parades that give la piazza its cheerful function in Italian life. La piazza, in many ways, is the nucleus of Italian soul; it allows one to feel the pulse of the entire community and the essence of daily living.

Those Italians really know how to live, don’t they!

Till next time - have happy days.
Thanks much for your interest in Italian cookies and Italian traditions.
Come visit us soon or send a note.   

Arrivederci  -  Dio ti benedica

Rev. Fr. Mike


Copyright © 2010 Rev. Michael Librandi