Charlottesville Thanksgiving 2017

Thanksgiving in Charlottesville 2017

Once again we have arrived at the time of year that reminds everyone to slow down from all the rush of the holidays and enjoy a meal with family and friends and think of ways to be thankful.

Although history has shown us many different versions of when the first official date of Thanksgiving is in North America – Native Americans had been giving thanks during the harvest season for centuries – Virginians celebrate the first English one held at the Berkeley Plantation in 1619, according to accounts from a first-hand report of Captain John Woodlief’s journey from Bristol, England, to the New World. 

Along with 35 settlers, Woodlief traveled across the Atlantic on the “Good Ship Margaret” and sailed up the James River to what is now Berkeley Plantation, where they made landfall on December 4, 1619—one year and seventeen days before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts. 

Prior to setting out on their journey, the settlers received a proclamation from the Berkeley Company, who financed the trip, with a list of ten instructions. The first directive was to give thanks immediately upon arrival and to continue the practice “yearly and perpetually.” 

The ceremony was a simple one—not much more than a prayer of thanksgiving; and nothing like the Pilgrims’ three-day New England feast. The tradition continued each year until a 1622 Powhatan attack decimated the fledgling settlement. 

Earlier Thanksgivings

Looking even further back, many prior European explorers offered prayers of thanksgiving upon their safe arrivals in Florida, including Juan Ponce de León, in 1513 and 1521, Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528, Hernando de Soto in 1529, Father Luis Cáncer de Barbastro in 1549, and Tristán de Luna in 1559.

On June 30, 1564—a year before the St. Augustine celebration—the French explorer Rene Goulaine de Laudonnière called for a feast to celebrate the establishment of Fort Caroline atop the St. Johns Bluff, near present-day Jacksonville. The Timucua Indians warmly welcomed the French Huguenots and helped prepare a feast in their honor. “We sang a psalm of Thanksgiving unto God,” Laudonnière wrote of the ensuing celebration, “beseeching Him that it would please His Grace to continue His accustomed goodness toward us.”


Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles arrived on the coast of Florida. He came ashore on September 8, 1565, naming the land on which he stepped “St. Augustine” in honor of the saint on whose feast day, Aug. 28, the land was sighted. Members of the Timucua tribe, which had occupied the site for more than 4,000 years, greeted Menéndez and his group of some 800 Catholic colonists peacefully.

Colonial records indicate that on the date they came ashore, and in gratitude for their safe arrival, the Spanish celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving, the very first Catholic mass on American soil. According to the memoirs of Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, who celebrated the mass, once “the feast day [was] observed . . . after mass, ‘the Adelantado [Menendez] had the Indians fed and dined himself.”

First Official Holiday Set in 1863

In the autumn of 1621, in celebration of their first successful corn harvest, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony hunted wildfowl and held a feast that was attended by local members of the Wampanoag Tribe, which contributed five deer. History books and countless American schoolchildren know this communal meal as the famous “First Thanksgiving.”

The United States government officially established the November Thanksgiving holiday in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War.

Local fun events

On Thanksgiving Day, the 36th Annual Boar’s Head Turkey Trot will take place at the Boar’s Head Inn. Unite with friends and family to run or walk the annual 5k course to raise money for the UVA Children’s Hospital. No pets, please. Early registration is recommended. Boar’s Head Inn. 9am. All ages welcome. Reservations are required. For more info call: 972-7454. 

Also on that day, starting at 10 am, come to the Blessing of the Hounds at the historic Grace Episcopal Church. Enjoy a brief blessing ceremony, which includes bagpipes, a soloist, hounds, and horses. Enjoy cider and donuts and the beginning of the hunt afterward. No pets allowed on church grounds. All ages welcome. For more info call: 434-293-3549. 

Help over the holidays

If you’d like to donate to a local food bank to help over the holidays:

The Thomas Jefferson Food Bank is the local hub of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which, since 1981, has served 25 counties and 8 cities on either side of the Blue Ridge through distribution centers in Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Winchester and at the headquarters in Verona. 

It provides nutritious food to 114,400 people each month through a far-reaching network of 215 food pantries, soup kitchens, schools, churches and other nonprofit groups.

The local branch is located at 1207 Harris St # B – just down from Bodo’s on Preston.

Phone: (434) 296-3663.

Loaves & Fishes, located at 2050 Lambs Road, near Albemarle High School, is able to purchase food at greatly discounted prices, so monetary contributions go further than food donations, but they’re grateful to receive either. It’s a tax-exempt organization and donations are tax deductible. Phone: (434) 996-7868.

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