24 November 2010

Thanksgiving Symbols

The first pilgrims arrived in the new world in 1620 with little to prepare them for the winter they faced. The next year, the drought of 1621, led them to pray and fast and ask God for a bountiful harvest to keep them from starving.

The crops were saved that year and the pilgrims held a communal celebration feast in the autumn. The tale is folklore, and, though we accept it, nothing was written to confirm the story. Despite that, Thanksgiving was declared an American national holiday in 1941.

The symbols of Thanksgiving focus on fall harvest and giving thanks. In addition, many would add football, skiing, church and walks in the woods.

Decorations for Thanksgiving include fall leaves, gourds, pumpkins and cornstalks. Early Europeans made a type of wicker scarecrow that they filled with fall harvest fruits, and that evolved into the scarecrows used today.

Cobs of colorful corn have been a popular decoration for decades and across cultures. Native Americans were growing corn when the pilgrims arrived. Since they believed that the Corn God taught them to grow it, corn is revered. The tradition was passed on when Native Americans taught the pilgrims, and now, serving corn for Thanksgiving dinner is a tradition.

Pumpkins and squash from the late harvest were originally cooked with maple syrup and made into pies. Now pumpkins are also used as decoration, cooked to fill ravioli and made into soup and cookies.

Very much like today, the pilgrims enjoyed apples raw, stewed, and in desserts.

Cranberries, always harvested in the fall, were originally called crane berries for the pink blossoms and drooping stalks. The pilgrims sweetened the berries with maple syrup.

The cornucopia has been the most common symbol of fall harvest festivals. The horn shaped container is always overflowing with an abundance of fruit, nuts, flowers, ribbons, breads, vegetables and decorations.
Fitzwitty Cookie Company made cornucopia cookies
for Thanksgiving this year.

Dating from 400 B.C., cornucopia means horn of plenty. The word is made of two Latin words cornu (horn) and copia (plenty).

The horn was originally a goat’s horn filled with an endless supply of fruits and grains. In one story of Zeus's childhood he was sent to a cave for safe-keeping where Amalthea cared for him. Amalthea used a goat's horn to muffle the sound of his cries in order to protect him from discovery.

In one version of the myth, the goat tore off the horn to present to Zeus as an offering. Another interpretation is that Zeus broke off Amalthea's horn accidentally and then promised that she would always have an abundance of whatever fruits she desired. Later, that myth evolved into three Roman goddesses of plenty - Copia, Fortuna, and Pax.

Demeter, goddess of the harvest and Pluto the god of abundance both have a cornucopia as one of their symbols.

Cornucopias also featured in classical art. Tyche the goddess of good fortune and prosperity holds a cornucopia upright, representing Dionysus the god of wine and festivity.

The cornucopia is also a popular religious symbol. In the ancient world it was stamped on Jewish coins, and was found on seals and rings of the Maccabean era as early as 160 BC. Roman coins dating to the year 161 feature two cornucopias as decoration.

Today, greeting cards, homes, and church tables are decorated with wicker, ceramic and bread dough cornucopias filled with an abundance of breads, flowers, fruits, nuts and fall vegetables.

The state of Idaho has two cornucopias in its flag and state seal. North Carolina and New Jersey each have one on their state seals. And, the coat of arms of Peru includes a cornucopia.

No matter which myth prevails, or where one lives, the cornucopia symbolizes an abundance of blessings.

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