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Be thankful for your loved ones

BY TOM MITSOFF

Thanksgiving is one of Americaís most treasured holidays and traditions. While there are some constants in the way we observe the day, it can mean different things to different people.

The American Thanksgiving holiday began as a feast in the early days of the American colonies almost 400 years ago. In 1620, a boat filled with more than 100 people sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from England to settle in the New World. This religious group had begun to question the beliefs of the Church of England and they wanted to separate from it.

The Pilgrims settled in what is now the state of Massachusetts, and their first winter in the New World was difficult. They had arrived too late to grow many crops, and without fresh food, half the colony died from disease. The following spring the Iroquois Indians taught them how to grow corn (maize), a new food for the colonists. They showed them other crops to grow in the unfamiliar soil and how to hunt and fish.

In the autumn of 1621, plentiful crops of corn, barley, beans and pumpkins were harvested. The colonists had much to be thankful for, so a feast was planned. They invited the local Indian chief and 90 Indians. The Indians brought deer to roast with the turkeys and other wild game offered by the colonists. The colonists had learned how to cook cranberries and different kinds of corn and squash dishes from the Indians. To this first Thanksgiving, the Indians even brought popcorn.

In following years, many of the original colonists celebrated the autumn harvest with a feast of thanks. After the United States became an independent country, Congress recommended one yearly day of thanksgiving for the whole nation to celebrate. George Washington suggested the date November 26 as Thanksgiving Day. Then in 1863, at the end of the long and bloody civil war, Abraham Lincoln asked all Americans to set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving.

For the early settlers, Thanksgiving was a recognition that in spite of their early tragedies, the colonists overcame the adversity, reached out for help and were able to successfully sow the seeds of a food supply and what would go on to become the greatest nation on Earth.

In the 21st century, Thanksgiving has some of the same meanings as in the 17th century, and some meanings that those early explorers could never have comprehended.

For people in the retail business, the day after Thanksgiving means the busiest shopping day of the year. Bargain hunters set their alarms to go off before the crack of dawn, and then flock to the large retail centers in what has become an incredible ritual. It never ceases to be amazing to see a retail store parking lot full before 6 a.m., but those crowds may be a bit thinner this year.

Buying items online is becoming more and more accepted by American consumers. Sales at U.S. online retailers rose in the third quarter and posted their best year-over-year performance since the first quarter of 2001, the government said Friday. In its quarterly report on e-commerce trends, the Commerce Department said online sales increased 7.8 percent from the previous quarter, to $11.06 billion. That was a 34.3 percent increase over the third quarter of 2001, their largest year-over-year gain since the first quarter of 2001, when sales rose 42 percent.

According to a survey by Nielsen/NetRatings, more than 106 million people will spend $9.9 billion shopping online in December. That compares with the 85 million people who spent $6.9 billion last year, according to the survey group. So for those in the retail sector, Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful because it signals the beginning of the busiest shopping season of the year. Those in the online sales business are perhaps even a bit more thankful.

Then there are those among us who will spend the day without certain family or loved ones for various reasons. For most of our lives, the holidays are symbolized by time spent with the people to whom we are closest. When that changes, for any reason, the arrival of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, or any traditional family gathering day is bound to trigger feelings of sadness. Sometimes giving thanks may seem a bit difficult under those circumstances.

Experts say there is nothing wrong with allowing oneself to experience the feelings of sadness and loss. But people in this situation should also stop and be thankful for the loved ones who are still in their lives. Take a few private moments on Thanksgiving to reflect upon these people, and make it a point to let them know that you are thankful for them. And if you know someone who will be spending Thanksgiving and other holidays alone, reach out in some way so that person knows he or she is not alone.

Thanksgiving started as a way to celebrate a bountiful harvest. In our rushed new millennium lifestyles, it means different things to different people. But donít let it pass without telling the people who you love and who love you that you are thankful for them.

This column was written November 24, 2002, and published in several print publications across the country.

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