A Thanksgiving Story

Posted by Amy Clyde on 11/10/2016
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Norman Rockwell, Thanksgiving, Travel

freedom from wantThanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love gathering with family and friends over wonderful food, and at my house, even though my teenagers think it’s a little hokey, we go around the table and say what we’re thankful for.  But until I went to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, I admit I hadn’t given any thought to the holiday’s role in American history since I dressed up like a Wampanoag in first grade.

In Stockbridge, though, face to face with Rockwell’s iconic Thanksgiving painting, I learned the moving story behind the painting and began thinking about all the stories behind the holiday, and how its meaning and traditions have evolved down through the generations.

As guests who travel with us to Stockbridge on Grand New England discover, Rockwell’s Thanksgiving painting, called “Freedom from Want,” is part of a quartet of paintings that he created in response to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms Speech” of January 1941. The President had outlined his vision of a postwar world founded on four freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.

Rockwell’s plan was to paint the four freedoms to be used to sell war bonds and stamps. But inspiration didn’t come easily to him; he procrastinated. “It was so darned high-blown,” he said. “Somehow I just couldn’t get my mind around it.” But it was exactly because he didn’t take a “high-blown” approach that the paintings were able to raise a phenomenal amount of money for the war effort; he ended up depicting the freedoms in a very personal way – with simple scenes of daily life that touched a deep chord. Today, at the museum, the four paintings live together in a specially designed gallery of their own; it truly feels like a sacred space.


Now back to that little Wampanoag from first grade. There’s actually a bit of controversy over whether the “First Thanksgiving” really was the Native American-Pilgrim feast that took place in 1621 in Plymouth, as we all learned in grade school. Some historians say the first celebration took place in 1610 in Jamestown, Virginia when ships from England arrived with provisions after the harsh winter that had decimated most of the colonists. Guests who travel to the living museum Plimoth Plantation on our Cape Cod, Newport and the Islands, or those who hear our expert in historic Jamestown on In Freedom's Footsteps: Philadelphia to Washington, DC, might just decide to decide for themselves…

First ThanksgivingBut we can all agree that Thanksgiving – as it has evolved from its roots in merry ancient Native American and European harvest celebrations through its time as a Puritan day of prayer and piety… to its development into a local New England family celebration…  to President Lincoln’s creation of a unifying national holiday … to the holiday’s blossoming around 1900 into a mythic full-fledged patriotic celebration of American freedom and citizenship – that this very American holiday, has reflected the twists and turns of American history and culture from the beginning. Deliciously.


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