November is the month of Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving holiday can be traced to a 1621 celebration in Plymouth, Mass. by the Pilgrims at their first harvest in the New World. This feast lasted three days, and was attended by approximately 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native-Americans, who had donated food to their new neighbors during their first winter here.
Our annual tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday in November began during the Civil War when President Lincoln declared a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
In San Pedro, many of the new immigrants from Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Mexico, Norway, and other seaside nations didn’t get off a boat and stay on land like the Pilgrims. They went back to sea on fishing boats and worked hard so that they could provide for their families. In the process they built a town. This is something that those of us who love San Pedro should always be thankful for.
Although the American tradition of Thanksgiving was brought to the New World by Pilgrims from England, ceremonies of prayer and thanksgiving are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times.
In Ancient Greece, Thanksgiving was Thesmophoria, a festival to honor the goddess that taught mankind to tend the soil. Southwest Native-Americans perform a corn dance to give thanks for their crop. The Jewish people celebrate Sukkot, which marks the end of the end of the agricultural year and celebrates the final harvest before winter. Many Asian cultures have festivals of gratitude for their rich rice harvest.
For many years, the San Pedro festival of thanks, which heaped gratitude toward the heavens for our harvest, was the Fishermen’s Fiesta. Our local crop was fish and in many ways, both literal and figurative, it fed our town. Because the great majority of the fishermen in our fleet were Catholics, the central piece of the Fishermen’s Fiesta ceremonies was the blessing of the fishing boats by the cardinal or bishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The men and women saying their prayers of thanksgiving on those days were in many ways San Pedro’s Pilgrims and just like the Pilgrims had their Plymouth Rock, we have our port.
Another set of San Pedro Pilgrims that helped build our town from its very first days, and have emerged as the economic engine that have driven our local economy after the fishing industry shrank, is our longshoremen. They also have an annual day of thanks that honors the deep struggle of their forefathers to ensure good compensation for the harvest of their labor. It’s called Bloody Thursday.
Every year on July 5, ILWU members gather at a picnic to remember the men that were killed in the Big Strike of 1934, a labor struggle that was won by the longshoremen and created the conditions for a waterfront that has greatly prospered our community.
As we embark on a new era in San Pedro, the coming waterfront development at Ports O’ Call and the construction of AltaSea, a world-class marine research center at City Dock 1, provide us the exciting opportunity to start dreaming of new Pilgrims that will join our fishermen and longshoremen in building the next chapter of what we will be thankful for in our community.
This Thanksgiving, while the rest of the nation carves turkey and looks back at Plymouth, I think it might be appropriate for us San Pedrans to include a side dish from the sea and to take a long and reflective look at our beautiful harbor that has given us so much to be thankful for. spt
Jack Baric can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.