Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

The history of Thanksgiving in America

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President George W. Bush visits the Thanksgiving Shrine at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia


Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. As we gather to celebrate with family and friends, let me offer a short history lesson on the holiday origins in America.

In the fall of 1619 the ship Margaret set sail from Bristol, England on a roughly two-month voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Captain John Woodliffe would bring his ship with 38 settlers safely to what was known as Berkeley Hundred on December 4.

Berkeley Hundred was a land grant from the Virginia Company of London, an English stock company formed by King James I in order to fund the establishment of colonial settlements in America.

The Berkeley Hundred land grant went to a group of five men, including John Smyth, who became the official historian of the group. Over the next two decades he collected documents relating to the settlement of what would be known as “Virginia”, and these still survive today.

The land grant was for some eight thousand acres along the James River a few miles west of Jamestown, which itself had been the first British colony in the New World just a few years earlier.

The proprietors of the Virginia Company had directed in their granting of the land charter that “the day of our ships arrival…shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of Thanksgiving.

The settlers of the Margaret did indeed keep that celebration, doing so more than two years prior to the popularly remembered landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Over the hundreds of years since, there have been many disputes as to the official beginnings of this holiday which has become formally known as Thanksgiving Day here in America. Most of those disputes have been sources of regional pride battles between Virginia and the New England area.

When he became the first President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed that Thursday, November 26, 1789 was an official “day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.

It was from this Washington proclamation that most formal Thanksgiving celebrations were celebrated on the final Thursday in November. However, it was not an official national holiday. 

Following decades of lobbying by schoolteacher and author Sara Hale of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” fame, President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 called for such an official Thanksgiving Day holiday on the last Thursday in November. However, the rancor of the Civil War caused the celebration to become delayed until the 1870’s.

The United States would then celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November until the early days of World War II. On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law a joint congressional resolution moving the official celebration to the fourth Thursday in November. 

It was believed that the earlier celebration would give the nation an economic boost during the difficult war years. Ultimately, this move would lead to the modern follow-up retail shopping phenomenon known as “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving. 

Most stores had been closed on the holiday itself. They would offer many sales promotions upon re-opening in order to entice shoppers back. This began to mark the opening of the Christmas holiday gift shopping season.

Over two decades later, on November 5, 1963, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation aimed at assuaging the hotly debated Virginia-New England origin battles. JFK’s proclamation read as follows:

“Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.”

Thanksgiving now continues to fall on that fourth Thursday of November here in the United States. This means that the formal date can range anywhere from the 22nd of the month through the 28th. We continue, to paraphrase President Kennedy, to set aside time to give reverent thanks for the faith which unites us with our God.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Sunday Sermon: Giving thanks for modern religious

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Another day marks the return of another regular series to my website. This time it will be the weekly ‘Sunday Sermon‘ series geared towards religious/spiritual issues.

This series is one of my oldest, beginning all the way back in September 2005. It ran fairly regularly through 2013, but then disappeared for the better part of three years.

I briefly resuscitated the series a year ago, but it turned out to be for just three installments. The last of those was published nine months ago.

Well, ‘Sunday Sermon’ is back for good now with this, the 70th installment in its history. All of the previous articles and any into the future can be viewed simply by clicking on that ‘Tag’ found immediately following this piece when viewed in its web version.

Today’s piece covers a topic of vital importance, one that speaks specifically to the Catholic Church. That would be the difficult decision made by young people in the 21st century in joining a religious order.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is currently engaged in its annual St. Charles Boromeo Seminary Appeal. The appeal is an attempt to raise money for the seminary through donations from parishioners.

There are currently fifteen young men at St. Charles who are in the midst of their studies to become a Catholic priest. They come not only from Philadelphia, but from all across the country. They entered the Seminary from high school and college, from careers on Wall Street, and from service to our nation’s military.

During today’s Mass at St. Christopher’s Parish in the Somerton section of Philadelphia, Father Sean English was the celebrant. In his homily, Father Sean spoke of his own decision making process after college. Father told of how, once he knew that he did indeed want to enter the Seminary and become a priest, the process of telling his family and friends took another nine months.

Father Sean’s last name may indeed be “English”, but he is a young Irishman through and through. There was a time when it was expected that a young man from an Irish American family would become one of three things: a cop, a politician, or a priest.

You would expect that his family might be overjoyed at having their son enter the priesthood. But it was still a difficult decision for Father Sean to tell his parents of his decision. To tell them that their son would not be having children to pass along the family name.

The Catholic Church has to be thankful that he heard a call from Christ, and had the courage to respond positively. Father Sean is an outstanding young priest. He is exactly what the Church needs more of, both here in American and across the globe.

It’s a difficult decision, surrendering yourself to a life of service to others. It is not so very unlike the calling that I felt myself at one point, to serve my community as a police officer. It is not unlike the call that many feel to serve the United States as a member of the military.

When called to a vocation, rather than simply taking a job in private industry, you have to surrender a certain amount of freedom. You must accept that you are going to help as many people as you can, under the most difficult circumstances. Not only will you face ridicule, but at times you will face outright opposition.

That call to the priestly vocation has been made particularly difficult in recent years by the priest abuse scandals which came to light over the last decade or so. Those scandals were then exacerbated by denials and cover-ups from some in the Catholic Church hierarchy.

But here is a fact. No matter those scandals, the Church needs priests. The priesthood is a vital institution for the survival of the Church into the future. The Church needs good men to step forward and become priests.

As a police officer, I have seen radicals charge that the entire profession is corrupt. There are some who believe that every police officer is racist, abusive, or both. I know from firsthand experience that is not only false, but that officers who fit into those categories are extreme rarities.

Do they exist? Yes. They exist in every profession. When those officers personal beliefs result in abusive actions, they often become newsworthy, sometimes sensationally so. But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of police officers are good, decent people like everyone else. They try to help their community every single day while raising their own families.

Priests are the same. The vast majority are good, decent men just trying to serve their community and their Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I’ve said it many times regarding this issue: you cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. No one should turn away from their relationship with the Church because of bad priests.

The number of men hearing and then heeding the call to the priesthood has seriously declined in recent decades. However, the number of women heeding the call to service as a Sister or “Nun” had always remained far higher.

In his letter to our parishioners this week, Monsignor Joseph Garvin wrote of the decline in the numbers of nuns as well. Here is what ‘Father Joe’ wrote:

“As you may have heard, religious communities of Sisters are going through a very difficult time. There are few younger Sisters. There was a time that Sisters outnumbered priests five to one. Now the numbers are getting closer to one on one.”


Many young men and women today appear to be lost. They come out of high school and college to face a harsh, divisive world. That includes right here in the United States of America.

These young people would be helped greatly by praying on their situation. In turning our concerns, our trials, our lives over to God in prayer we can often find the answers. Unfortunately, many of those same young people just don’t know how to pray, or worse, don’t know to pray at all. They simply don’t believe.

The answer to the problems facing many of these young people could also prove to be the answer to the problems of the Catholic Church. If we can get more young people to be aware of the priestly and sisterly option, to seriously consider that option, and to pray on it, we might kill two birds with one stone.

There are three concrete things that we can do, and all of us can do at least one of these.

First, we can pray. Every Christian, and especially every Catholic, should pray for more young people to hear and then heed a call to service from the Lord.

Second, we can donate. Support the current St. Charles Seminary Appeal with a financial donation. You can do that right here, right now: DONATE NOW.

Third, we can guide our children’s spiritual development with purpose. We can further encourage our children and grandchildren to consider a life of service as a priest or nun.

This coming Thursday marks the holiday of Thanksgiving here in the United States. We should all give thanks to any young person in today’s world who is willing to take on the challenge and reap the rewards as they surrender themselves to a life of service as a priest or sister.

Thanksgiving 2016: Five Phillies Things to be Thankful For

I have been a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies ever since I became aware of their existence at around age nine in the 1971 season.
That year, Veteran’s Stadium opened virtually in my South Philly backyard. 
Over the decades since, I have attended hundreds of games as a paying customer between ‘The Vet’ and Citizens Bank Park, not to mention a few road trip excursions.
I watched the 1970’s team come to power and win the 1980 World Series championship. Even attended Game Two of that Fall Classic as an 18-year old.
I fell in love with the 1993 ‘Macho Row’ squad, still the most fun Phillies season from start to finish that I have ever enjoyed.
And I especially reveled in the greatness of the team from the last decade. The one that rose to power in the late-00’s, won the 2008 World Series, and captured five straight NL East crowns.


But as we have all had to come to grips with here in the City of Brotherly Love, that time is over now. The Phillies have been losers on the field for the last four years, and are now in the midst of a major rebuilding program.
It is with all those memories in mind that I sit here on Thanksgiving Eve, putting down in words a handful of things that strike me as those for which I am thankful at this time in the club’s history.
Some of these are things that bring me joy regarding the Philadelphia Phillies, and which have little to do with the actual playing of the baseball games.
Others are vital to the team and the playing of those games, to the winning and losing. The decision-making and the moves that have been and still will be made to bring the club back to on-field contending status.

Phillies Thanksgiving 2015

The Philadelphia Phillies organization and fan base have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

That statement might seem a bit misguided considering that the Phillies finished with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball during the 2015 season.
The Fightin’ Phils finished in last place in the NL East for a 2nd straight season, and finished with a losing record for a 3rd straight season.
However, there are very real signs that the organization problems may have bottomed out. While real, measurable, on-field improvement may still take another year, there is now hope for the future.
First, consider the major changes in the management and ownership situations. 
We began the 2015 season with Pat Gillick still in charge on behalf of an old-school mentality ownership. Ruben Amaro Jr, who had overseen the demise of the club at the Major League level, was still the general manager. Ryne Sandberg, who seemed unable to make a real connection with his players, was still in the dugout.
Flash forward to the end of the season, and the two months since it drew to a close. 
New, aggressive ownership has stepped forward with the public emergence of John Middleton as the face and voice of the group. 
Andy MacPhail has taken control as team president. Matt Klentak has been hired as a young, new-wave, Ivy League educated general manager. 
Pete Mackanin has been given the opportunity to skipper a team into spring training for the first time in his career.
Every one of these developments is a positive one for fans to bank on moving forward. We will no longer see the same old mentality. 

Performance and production will rule the day, not who you may know, or how long you may have been around, or what you may have done in the past, no matter how glorious.
But the changes in the front office and in field management are not the only reason for fans to be excited. 
On the field, there is real, observable young talent emerging, and even more promising to come over the next couple of years from a vastly improved minor league situation, as well as a strong draft position.
Maikel Franco is just 23 years old, is the 3rd baseman now, and should be a strong corner infielder with big offensive production for years to come. 
Odubel Herrera turns 24 years old as the year ends, and is a speedy, exciting, naturally gifted hitter who could be the long term answer at either center field or 2nd base.
On the mound out of the bullpen, Ken Giles is 25 years old, and already one of the most exciting young closers in baseball. 
He is likely to stay, despite growing trade rumors. But even if he is dealt away, it would be a for a couple of players who would bring measurable upgrade to the minors system.
In the starting rotation, Aaron Nola is 22 years old, and looks like he will be at least a strong #3 starter, possibly a #2 for years to come. 
Jerad Eickhoff is 25 years old and was a revelation after coming in the Cole Hamels deal from Texas. He looks to have at least the same ceiling as Nola. 
Adam Morgan finally was healthy and emerged as a solid back-end option, and turns just 26 prior to spring training.
In the minors, top prospect shortstop J.P. Crawford turns 21 years old in January, and should be ready by later in the 2016 season. 
Outfielder Roman Quinn is 22 years old, has speed to burn, and could force Odubel back into the infield next season at some point. 
Nick Williams is 22 years old, and should push for a big league corner outfield job in 2016.
Jake Thompson turns 21 in January, and should push for a rotation role at some point next summer. 
Andrew Knapp turned 24 years old this month. The catcher and Paul Owens Award winner should be in the big leagues during the 2016 season. 
Franklyn Kilome is just 20 years old, but if he continues to develop at the pace that he has been, he could push for Philly by the end of next season.
The Phillies farm system is greatly improved, the club owns the top pick in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft, there is new management in place, a new controlling owner calling the shots, and the new Comcast cable contract kicking in soon.
These are not yet the heady days of the mid-late 2000’s by any means. But after a couple of seasons wandering in the dark through the wilderness at the bottom of baseball, the fans of the Phillies can be thankful that their organization is finally on the right track.

Thankful For a Game?

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in America, the fourth Thursday in November. It’s a day where we give thanks to our God and spend time with the family and friends with whom he has blessed our lives.
The day usually includes a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, vegetables, pies, and other foods and treats. It also includes watching pro football games on TV, and sometimes watching high school rivalry games in person.
Something that we don’t usually think about or associate with on Thanksgiving Day is the sport of baseball. But I am going to take a little time to speak about the game on this day for one important reason.

This is supposed to be a day on which we recognize and express our gratitude for the people and things that we love, and in my life there have been few things outside of my family that I have loved more than the sport that I like to call “The Greatest Game That God Ever Invented.”

My love of the game encompasses every way that it can be enjoyed, from playing to coaching to spectating to fantasy. My involvement in the game pretty much began with the opening of Veteran’s Stadium in my South Philly neighborhood when I was just 9 years old. Until that point the only real sports events that I had been exposed to were the Big Five basketball games that I remember my dad watching on television.
In the spring of 1971, ‘The Vet’ opened it’s gates at Broad and Pattison, and my dad took my brother Mike and I to the ‘Opening Day’ festivities. It was an event prior to the first game, where fans could get in and walk around the sparkling new facility.

All of the baseball specific features were on display, from the baseline picnic areas, to the booming cannon of Phil & Phyllis that would follow each Phillies’ home run, to the colorful Dancing Waters fountain in center field.

I was hooked by the place, and the team and game would soon follow.

The Phillies in those early 70’s days were awful. The first three seasons at The Vet, the first three that I followed, saw the team finish in 6th and last place in the National League East Division.

But my friends and I loved heading down to the ballpark where we could sit in the 700 level for just .50 cents. Because the team was so bad, there were many nights that we were able to move down to the lower levels in the later innings to seats vacated by season ticket holders.

We would go to those games in groups, often with a dozen or more kids together at one time. Sometimes we took the 79 bus on Snyder Avenue up to the Broad Street Subway, and then south to the Pattison Avenue stop at the stadium.

Most times we just walked, since it was just a few miles and our legs, hearts and minds were all still young. The walk itself was often a part of the adventure and experience of having a good time hanging together.

My favorite players in that first 1971 season were slick-fielding, scrappy 2nd-year shortstop Larry Bowa, colorful rookie center fielder Willie Montanez, and a powerful rookie outfielder named Greg ‘the Bull’ Luzinski.

In 1972, two new players who would eventually change everything would join the team. Pitcher Steve Carlton came in a somewhat controversial trade for talented and popular pitcher Rick Wise, who had tossed a no-hitter the previous year. And a highly touted prospect third baseman named Mike Schmidt would make his debut late in the season.

On the fields, playgrounds and schoolyards of my Two Street neighborhood in South Philly, I played the game as much as I could. Although I tried out and played a couple of seasons in organized leagues at the Murphy Rec Center at 4th and Shunk and with our local EOM sports organization, it was mostly in loosely organized neighborhood teams where I got my playing experience.
My friends and I played our version of stick ball in the schoolyard at Sharswood Public School. We called the game ‘long ball’, a game where the defense was setup the same as a baseball team, but where offensively you hit a rubber ‘pimple ball’ that was pitched to you underhanded on one bounce.

You did your hitting with a stick, usually fashioned from a broom  or mop handle. Some kids came up with things over the years that looked like war clubs, some made of shovel handles, some the origins of which were purely speculative.

We also had a game called ‘fast ball’ that was played with the same stick and pimple ball used in ‘long ball’, but in which the pitches were delivered overhand in the usual baseball pitching style. The batter stood at a ‘strike zone’ that was usually formed by a box drawn on a schoolyard wall, or that was formed by the window covering on the lower levels of the school building. The pitcher would deliver fastballs, curves, sliders and anything else he could come up with to fool the hitter.
A traditional South Philly game was ‘half ball’ in which you would take the standard rubber pimple ball and literally slice it in half. The two halves then each became a ‘halfball’, with the pitches delivered underhanded. The batters would usually face a large wall or structure, a certain level of which was designated as a home run.

We played these games every single summer from around age 9 or 10 until they disappeared from our radar screen when we reached around age 14.

During those early to mid-70’s days of my developing love for the game, baseball was featured on network television in a ‘Game of the Week’ format. We also got to watch many of the Phillies road games on a local ‘UHF’ channel 17, and also the Major League Baseball playoff and World Series games.
My earliest memory of watching baseball on television involves following the 1972 NLCS where the Cincinnati Reds were facing off against the defending World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds were in the early years of what would become known as the legendary ‘Big Red Machine” and had players such as Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez. The Pirates showcased Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.
In the series, the Pirates took two out of the first three games in the best-of-five series. The Reds stayed alive and tied the series up with big 7-1 romp in the fourth game, sending the series to an ultimate, dramatic fifth and deciding game.

In that fifth game, the Pirates took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 9th inning. The Reds rallied to tie on a dramatic home run by Bench. Cincinnati then put two more runners on base, and the Pirates brought in Bob Moose, one of their starters. Moose got two outs, one of them moving George Foster to 3rd base. Then it all ended suddenly when Moose threw a wild pitch, enabling Foster to score the game and series-winning run.

No one knew it at the time, but it would be the final game in the storied Hall of Fame career of the legendary Clemente. He would be tragically killed in an off-season plane crash while on a humanitarian mission to help victims of an earthquake. Both the Pirates and the Reds would remain contenders throughout the decade, and would both become rivals to the Phillies as our home team finally became a contender at mid-decade.
The Phillies fortunes began to change by 1974, when they finished at 80-82 and were a much more competitive club. By 1975, the team was a winner, and seriously challenged for the NL East title before falling short. That team was inspired by second baseman Dave Cash, who had come over from the Pirates and whose slogan “Yes We Can!” inspired the ball club and was the rallying point for the team’s advertising campaign.
The Phillies began to reap the benefits of the development of their own core of young players in Schmidt, Luzinski, Bowa, catcher Bob Boone, and pitchers like Larry Christenson, Dick Ruthven and Randy Lerch. Carlton developed from a good pitcher into a great Cy Young Award winner. And management made great trades to bring in Gary Maddox, Bake McBride and Tug McGraw among others. The stage was set for winning the NL East in four of five seasons from 1976 through 1980.
For the 1979 season, the team was able to make perhaps the biggest free agent signing in it’s history when Reds spark plug Pete Rose was signed. That 1979 club ultimately fell apart down the stretch due to injuries and complacency, but in 1980 it all came together.

The Phillies won the World Series for the first time in the 97 year history of the franchise in 1980. I got to attend Game #2 of that Fall Classic, a victory over the Kansas City Royals and future Hall of Famer George Brett. When the Phillies finally clinched the crown with a win in Game Six, my friends and I were right there in the middle of all the celebrations.

By the mid-1980’s, I had been employed at First Pennsylvania Bank for a few years, and was a young father of two daughters. I had also been involved with the game by playing in a men’s softball league, and had gotten involved with a team which we eventually came to call the “Brewers”, mostly after our love of having a few cold adult beverages following each game.
The Brewers, their wives, girlfriends, and families became my 2nd family over the years, the best friends of my adult life. We would build the team into a perennial winner, and would take home league championships in 1985, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’92 and finally in 1994.

I had the privilege of managing the ’89, ’91 and ’94 Brewers champions. I also had my personal greatest moment as a ballplayer with the team when, on August 1st, 1991 in the final game of a championship series sweep, I homered over the fence at Archbishop Ryan high school’s field.

Eventually, the playing career would give way to a combination of age and adult responsibilities. But the game never left me, as I continued to both follow the Phillies and MLB, both in person and on TV. I also got involved in the new hobby of ‘fantasy baseball’, in which you ‘own’ certain pro players and where your fantasy team success is based on their real-world performances.
In 1993, the Phillies would enjoy a rarity in Major League Baseball, a ‘worst-to-first’ season. The franchise had basically collapsed following the greatness of the late 70’s and early 80’s. That 1993 season would, in fact, be a rare contending season for the team over a two decade period.

But those 1993 Phillies would prove to be the most fun ball club that I ever watched. Players such as John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Darren Daulton, Curt Schilling, Mitch Williams and a cast of characters along with them moved to first place early, stayed there all year, and then upset the Braves in the NLCS.

They took the defending champion Blue Jays all the way to the 6th game of the World Series, where Joe Carter beat Mitch in one of baseball’s greatest finishes. Despite the finish for the Phillies, the season will never be forgotten by those of us who lived through it and enjoyed every inning.

In the summer of 1998, I formed the ‘Whitey Fantasy Baseball League’ with a number of other lovers of the game from all around the country. It is a ‘keeper’ league, where you get to keep and maintain control over your players unless or until you trade them away or release them. We have both Major League players and a full minor league/prospect/draft system now. I won the championship in this league with my Philadelphia Athletics teams in both 2002 and 2008.
Of course, that 2008 baseball season was important to all Philadelphia baseball fans, not just to my fantasy title-winning self. The Phillies, after floundering for most of the past two decades, had been building a winner over the previous few seasons.

In 2008, it finally all came together. The team won the World Series led by players like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Brad Lidge, Cole Hamels and Brett Myers. They went back to the Series in 2009, and nearly made it three straight appearances this past season.

My love for the game remains strong as I turn 49 years old. I haven’t stepped into a batters box since early in the summer of 1999, but the game still courses through my veins.

This past season, my wife and I purchased our first-ever season ticket package for the Phillies, enjoying many Sunday games together at the place we consider our 2nd home, one of the most beautiful ballparks in baseball, Citizens Bank Park.

Just last month, we stood in the stands and roared with the crowd as Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS. It was the only no-hitter and one of the greatest pro baseball moments that I ever experienced in person.

This Thanksgiving Day, among all the other things for which I am thankful, I include this game that has meant so much to my life’s enjoyment.

From the schoolyard ball of South Philly to the family of the Brewers softball team to the great Major League moments: Carlton Fisk waving a ball fair, a baseball rolling between Bill Buckner’s legs, Brad Lidge dropping to his knees in joy, baseball has given me memories and experiences that have enriched my life in so many ways.

Finally, thank you, God, for allowing me to participate and enjoy your greatest game in such an intimate way. And almost as much as spending eternity in your loving presence and with my family and friends.

And I look forward to playing the game, once again in my youth, in your Heaven. To running the bases, sliding into the bags, diving for the balls, gunning the throws, smelling the freshly mowed grass, feeling the crack of the ball against the bat, hearing the cheers, feeling the embrace of teammates.

For this great game, I am eternally thankful. Happy Thanksgiving to all.