By Marah J. Morrison
Family, friends and food may be things that come to mind when people think about Thanksgiving. Although the holiday has evolved over time, people still find prominence in the ways they decide to celebrate it.
Martha Pallante, a professor in the Department of History and the associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Youngstown State University, said Thanksgiving is a harvest celebration.
Pallante said contrary to popular belief, the first Thanksgiving celebrated was not in New England, but at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, and it celebrated a prosperous year for those partaking in it.
“It was more of a spiritual Thanksgiving than the overindulgence of food that we normally associate with it,” she said.
Pallante said Thanksgiving is also part of a larger English tradition at the end of the year. She said usually somewhere between late October and Dec. 1, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving, which mirrors their harvest.
“They are farther north and in many cases their harvests are concluded earlier because of a shorter growing season,” she said. “It’s a product of a preindustrial world.”
Pallante said Thanksgivings have been celebrated in the United States in a variety of fashions, and some are more formal or recognized than others.
“Our notion of a national Thanksgiving is actually the product of a woman named Sarah Hale,” she said. “She actually began petitioning, I believe it was Abraham Lincoln, for a Thanksgiving holiday.”
Pallante said people have disconnected from the agricultural past, and the holiday has taken on other kinds of meaning.
She said it has become more of a celebration of family and a time to recognize the good things that have happened throughout the course of the year.
“It marks the beginning of the solstice holidays,” she added. “It’s becoming increasingly focused on food.”
Pallante said what’s traditional for Thanksgiving varies by the part of the country people live in and the ethnic origins of their family. She said she is from an Italian-American family, so they have pasta and wedding soup in addition to the turkey.
“For me, the holiday is the chance to bring family together,” she said. “It’s a chance for myself and my husband’s families to come together.”
Alena Kirova, an assistant professor in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at YSU and who is also from Siberia, Russia, said people in Russia do not celebrate Thanksgiving.
Kirova said historically, Thanksgiving has a reason to be celebrated in the United States, but Russia does not have the same historical context. She said in the Soviet Union, Nov. 7 was the day of the Great October Revolution.
“When the Soviet Union collapsed, this holiday was removed from the calendars,” she said. “They came up with a different holiday, which I think is called the Day of Union and Respect.”
Kirova said people in Russia still have this holiday on Nov. 4 and also have a day off, but it’s for a different cause. She said during Thanksgiving break here, she usually gets together with her friends for dinner.
“This year I’m going to have dinner at one of my friends’ house and [we’ll have] the traditional menu for Thanksgiving,” she said. “I find it nice to get together with friends and eat delicious food.”
Alyssa Downs, an adjunct Spanish instructor at YSU, said to celebrate Thanksgiving, she gets together with her family however they can. Her family lives in North Carolina, so they try to meet up in the middle.
“We usually like to go out for a hike or a walk [and] spend time together,” she said. “[We also] cook a big meal.”
Downs said she appreciates time with her family during the holiday and having the time to reflect on things she is thankful for.