Rick BissonTo many of us, Thanksgiving in the postmodern world evokes images of bountiful meals adorned with cranberries, stuffing, mashed potatoes and turkey followed by a sampling of assorted pies and desserts.

Oftentimes, in the midst of all of this food preparation and consumption, we lose sight of the origin and meaning of Thanksgiving set forth by the pilgrims some 400 years ago. For these courageous and resilient pilgrims, the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of freedom, home and community.

Imagine the excitement and anxiety boarding a ship in 1620 in Southhampton, England with 102 passengers bound for an unknown, foreign shore. Such was the quest of the early pilgrims who sought the freedom to live without tyranny.

Blown off course while sailing across the rough, perilous, pounding seas of the Atlantic, the pilgrims ultimately spotted Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and landed at Plymouth Rock. While this new world presented many dangers and unknowns of its own, they felt both liberated and safe. They were home.

The next few months would prove to be difficult and trying. Their first attempt at a harvest was unsuccessful. More than half of the original pilgrims did not survive the first, long winter. Those who lived to see spring worked together to build homes and plant crops. Were it not for one another and the Native Americans, none would have survived. They forged a community.

After gathering their first successful harvest in November 1621, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited their Native American allies. The pilgrims and the Native Americans gathered at Plymouth for a three-day autumn harvest celebration. Although the pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time, this event is remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving.” They established a tradition.

For centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. In 1789, George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation. He instructed Americans to express their gratitude for the conclusion of the war of independence and the ratification of the Constitution.

George Washington’s successors, John Adams and James Madison, also designated days of thanksgiving during their presidencies. However, it wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

Although the deep-rooted significance of Thanksgiving is sometimes distant, this 400 year-old tradition lives on in America. This year, instead of getting caught up in “the holiday hype,” take some time to reflect on past and present pilgrims who have left their homes to move to other countries because of war, economic issues, or because of instability in their home countries.

It may be unlikely that many of these travelers will have the opportunity to enjoy a meal with their loved ones in a warm or safe place. They are seeking a place they can call home, forge a community and create traditions. Much like the pilgrims, despite their uncertainties, these modern day travelers may be looking at life with an “attitude of gratitude.”

As we find ourselves surrounded by loved ones, filled to the brim with decadent food, and comforted in the safety of our homes this Thanksgiving Day, let us also go forth with a thankful heart, as there is always something to be thankful for.

This column is produced by Rick Bisson and his family, who own Bisson Real Estate with Keller Williams Realty of Midcoast and Sugarloaf.