Thanksgiving 1819

Central Connecticut, November 1819: The crops have been harvested and the fall canning is under way. Father is hurrying to finish repairs to house and barn before winter arrives. Mother continues her spinning and knitting. The children work at their chores.

The family has been preparing for Thanksgiving dinner for months. Pies have been baked and stored in the attic One scrawny turkey, killed last week in the woods, is filled with chestnut stuffing, and cranberries are stewing on the stove.

Uncle Robert and Aunt Margaret and their children will arrive soon, walking the mile and a half from their farm to the house. Grandmother and Grandfather already are walking the path from their house on the other side of the barn.

The entire family had gathered the day before at the Congregational Church in the village to give thanks for all the blessings that God has bestowed on them and to pray for the souls of Mother and Father’s two children who had died in infancy. After the prayer service, the men, who can vote, spend a few minutes talking to the Selectmen about controlling the coyotes that attack the sheep. The women, who can’t, gather to share the news and to talk about important things – family, food, and the future.


Fast forward 200 years, and everything has changed. For starters, no one 200 years ago had any idea what fast forward even meant.

Somebody’s harvesting crops somewhere and shipping them across the country and across the world. Houses are almost care-free and fully winter-proof. Mother doesn’t make clothes, and the children don’t know what chores are. Cell phones, yes, chores, no.

Thanksgiving dinner comes from the stores. Fat turkeys, all manner of stuffing and side dishes. Pies? Who has time to bake? Pick up a couple at the farm store.

Uncle Robert and Aunt Margaret and their children come to visit from over the river, but not through the woods. They just drive out of their neighborhood, get onto the highway, cross over the four-lane bridge and arrive with big smiles on their faces, ready for the traditional touch football game. Grandmother and Grandfather flew up from Florida yesterday and are comfortably settled in the guest room.

The Congregational Church is neither the official nor unofficial church of the state. People worship in many different ways or not at all. Some worship on Thanksgiving, but I suspect most do not.

Men can vote, and women can, too. Anyone can vote, not just property owners, and church membership isn’t required, either.

Yes, everything’s changed.

Well, not everything. We’re still grateful, even more grateful, for all that we have, and Thanksgiving is still a time for us to stop and reflect with our families on all of our blessings.

Oh, and there’s something else that hasn’t changed. We still have Selectmen. Really. We’re still running our towns the same way we ran them 200 years ago. Everything around us has changed, we have roads and airplanes and super markets and Amazon and health and safety and abundance, but we here in the land of steady habits still hold on to our tried and true, pre-industrial revolution government! If 169 towns were good enough for great-great-great-grandpa, well, golly, they’re good enough for me!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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