Thanksgiving

A Family History of Thanksgiving

A family history of Thanksgiving is bound to be a bit different than the traditional accounts of Thanksgiving we read in the media and in general history books.

These days there is an effort to “correct” the historical teachings of Thanksgiving as it was once known.

Family history has a way of re-centering it because we know what we know from our own traditions.

~ Thanksgiving is a Multi-Cultural Experience ~

The media debates whether or not turkey was part of the first Thanksgiving 400 years ago in 1621. It is a silly argument because turkey is hardly the point and the Thanksgiving of 1621 was hardly the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated.

It was not even the first Thanksgiving in North America. The settlers at Jamestown was first reported some 11 years before in 1610.

That never gets talked about, mostly because Charlie Brown wasn’t there (okay, I’m kidding).

The idea here is that Thanksgiving was actually a very British and very Christian thing to do. In fact, it was a somewhat common practice that was held at any time of the year whenever a governing authority cared to call for it.

Thanksgiving Declaration

“Thanksgiving” was a general term to denote when a community would together celebrate some sort of good news.

It might be a victory in battle, the birth of a new prince, or simply a great harvest that would ensure survival through the winter months. When things like this happened, a public call to prayer and the recognition of God was made through a declaration of Thanksgiving.

It was hardly confined to British Christians. French explorers famously celebrated Thanksgiving in 16th century Canada.

Native American cultures also celebrated a form of Thanksgiving, often recognizing Deity and nature for their survival. Thanksgiving was, for them, a way to recognize they were stewards of the Good Earth who needed to care for it.

~ Mayflower and Puritan Ancestors ~

There is an image of Mayflower passengers as being a religiously persecuted bunch who came here to worship as they wanted.

That is partly true.

But it is also true it was the riches and freedom of the New World that enticed them.

But the greater story behind that “first” Thanksgiving in 1621 was a recognition they barely survived at all. And yes, the Native Americans not only participated in that three-day feast of Thanksgiving they were likewise instrumental in survival of that colony.

Our Westover ancestors certainly fit the mold of English Puritans. Gabriel Westover and family lived in Somerset, England, which was literally ground zero for the Puritan clashes against the Crown. Gabriel moved his family to the Netherlands, as many Puritans of that time and place did, just to protect them.

It was because of these conditions that Gabriel sent his teenage daughter, Jane, first to the New World and then a little later, he sent his son Jonah Westover, who would become the North American patriarch of the Westover family.

Jonah was very young when he arrived and the colony in Windsor was only a few years old. By then the traditions of Christmas and Thanksgiving were well established in Connecticut.

How do we know this?

The young media of the New World speaks of both celebrations. Much is made today of a proclamation in Boston banning Christmas but this did not actually occur until 1659. That happened nearly 40 years after the Mayflower.

So, what did they do during that time? They celebrated Christmas – albeit in a more devotional way than their English family was used to.

Christmas in England had become a raucous community event at the end of each year. It bled even into the Church of England where priests were guilty of role reversals, looking the other way at grievous sin, and participating in less-than-religious activities common to pagan celebrations of the solstice.

Christmas, in fact, was one of the reasons why the Puritans wanted out. They saw no Biblical justification for the celebration that Christmas was known as then.
But the Christmas they envisioned – one of worship, prayer and devotion – only became established due to one thing.

And that thing was Thanksgiving.

~ New England Traditions of Thanksgiving ~

Over the course of time after the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621 there are recorded many events called Thanksgiving that happened up until about 1650.

It seems that around that time the end of November – harvest season – Thanksgiving found annual declaration by colony leaders.

This well-timed tradition for Puritan settlers gave them the more festive event they longed for. It was, in their own way, more like what Christmas was viewed as in Old England.
In other words, once the church meetings were over and the prayers were said, Thanksgiving was a time to party.

Well, as much as Puritans could party.

That meant gathering as family and feasting, playing games, enjoying music and other secular pursuits not commonly associated with the Church.

Hunting games were common and, yes, since turkeys were native and abundant, that is what they hunted.

But the Thanksgiving feast was never limited to turkey alone. Venison, chicken and even pork were prepared during periods of Thanksgiving.

Food then, as now, was central to festive times together as family. From 1630 comes this neat little poem, singing the praises of pumpkin, which has been linked to the Thanksgiving celebrations of New England from the earliest time:

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies:
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins, we would be undoon.

It must be remembered that families were necessarily huge. A lot of children were born because survival was tough and required a lot of hands on the farm.

So an end-of-harvest event was a grand celebration in which family got together – perhaps for the only time during the year – and the duties of bringing and preparing food were shared.

These family gatherings were festive and could take several days.

It is important to note that Thanksgiving was considered a family event. Yes, a community might share a common date declared for Thanksgiving by a governor but rarely did one colony celebrate Thanksgiving at the same time as another.

But families got together when it best suited them – when all was safely gathered in and families were preparing for winter.

So the seasonal, end-of-harvest Thanksgiving was built on family tradition – not any kind of national calendar.

~ Thanksgiving during the 18th Century ~

While still a British territory in the 1700s the American colonies celebrated annual Thanksgiving “seasons” that were well noted in the local media.

A newspaper report from Philadelphia in 1754 estimated that the average family prepared at ate 10 pumpkin pies at Christmas. The same article said more than 2 million turkeys were consumed in a single day on the American Continent.

Thanksgiving

Such was the popularity and commonality of Thanksgiving during the pre-revolutionary years.

Ben Franklin had a lot to say about Thanksgiving. In fact, he is famous for once trying to electrocute a turkey for Thanksgiving.

For some reason, he believed a turkey killed with electricity would be tastier than one dispatched by conventional means: decapitation. As fellow scientist William Watson wrote in 1751, Franklin claimed that “birds kill’d in this manner eat uncommonly tender.”

Franklin set out to develop a standard procedure for preparing turkeys with static electricity collected in Leyden jars. One day, while performing a demonstration of the proper way to electrocute a turkey, he mistakenly touched the electrified wire intended for the turkey while his other hand was grounded, thereby diverting the full brunt of the turkey-killing charge into his own body.

Maybe this is why we roast turkeys in Franklin’s oven, instead of by electrocution.

Thanksgiving was declared a national observance by presidential proclamation from George Washington, John Adams, and even Thomas Jefferson.

It is important to note that Jefferson was uncomfortable with the whole idea of Thanksgiving. Not that he disagreed with the virtue of gratitude. His concerns stemmed from the idea of calling citizens to prayer and recognizing God.

As governor of Virginia and later as president he proclaimed Thanksgiving anyway, saying he was merely “recommending it”, not mandating it.

By Jefferson’s time Thanksgiving was a defacto national holiday. It was so engrained as an automatic thing there was no turning back from it.

That didn’t stop several from advocating for a national holiday known as Thanksgiving.

~ Thanksgiving in the 19th Century ~

The acknowledgement of Thanksgiving which would come later on a national scale was driven by people in the mid-19th century who grew up with those gathering traditions.

Such was the case of the creation of “Over the River and Through the Wood”, a popular Thanksgiving poem written in 1844.

Over the River

It was written by an extraordinary woman named Lydia Maria Child – decades before Christmas and Thanksgiving became recognized as official holidays. It is through her efforts and others that we know that Christmas and Thanksgiving were long traditions in North America.

Lydia Maria Child was a woman ahead of her time. Born in 1802 she made her voice heard through the power of her pen. (Yes, we are related – she is a distant cousin, through the Snow line).

She was an accomplished writer, editor and civil rights activist – in the early 19th century. During her day she would be controversial and even daring in the eyes of some. In the 19th century man’s world she was a force that tackled the prickly topics of slavery, male dominance and white supremacy.

But while her individual story is fascinating, her simple poem teaches us much about what Thanksgiving was like in the early 19th century. It was, simply, the biggest family celebration of the year.

She is not the only American writer with an ancestral connection to Thanksgiving. Read this about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – and the common Alden ancestors we share through the Snow line.

Our pioneer ancestors in Utah adopted the same Thanksgiving celebrations they brought with them from generations before. The first “Thanksgiving” was held in August of 1848, though our Westover ancestors missed it by more than a month.

But Albert Smith was there and he had great reason to observe it. Albert famously recorded his efforts to farm on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley and he recorded the miracle of the seagulls that summer. His gratitude was well noted within the pages of his journal.

Utah didn’t recognize Thanksgiving until 1851, when Brigham Young, then-governor of the Utah Territory, declared Jan. 1, 1852, a “day of praise and Thanksgiving.”

We do not have any kind of family records (that we know about) that talk of celebrating Thanksgiving in those days.

But we know from tradition that spilled forward into the 20th century that the family had a long established tradition of gathering and feasting that continues to this day.

Kyle Jay Westover Sr.

Kyle J. Westover Sr. – Obituary

Kyle J. Westover, Sr. Kyle J. Westover Sr., beloved son, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather passed away on Tuesday, November 16, after a long and valiant battle with cancer.

Kyle J. Westover Sr. Dad was born on March 20, 1942, to Leon and Maurine Westover in Richfield, Utah.

Dad’s early years were spent in southern Utah and included time living in the Japanese Internment Camp in Topaz, where his parents served as teachers.

Dad had a legendary memory and was able to recall and tell stories from very early in his life. There are many stories from his childhood years in southern Utah that would rival any Mark Twain novel.

From dropping large rocks down the outhouse while ladies were walking by and enjoying the large splash, to inviting the entire town of Enterprise to his birthday party without telling his Mom, to hopping on his bike with a friend to head out to Zion, Dad showed early he was a big thinker who took large strides.

His numerous adventures with friends and cousins were so legendary that when we took Dad to the 50th reunion of the school in Enterprise those in the class remembered him clearly and added even more stories and adventures to his epic childhood.

Following the war and during the post-war migration of returning troops, Dad and his family moved to Concord, California.

It was there that Dad continued his early education. He attended Mount Diablo High School and participated in choir and journalism. He was a card-carrying member of the Pat Boone Fan Club where he proudly served as their president (and only member). He was a rabid consumer of 1950’s pop culture, enjoying the entertainment of radio and television.

Kyle and Cathi WestoverThese interests impacted the rest of his life and led to him meeting the love of his life, Cathi Begich Caldwell, our mother.

Their senior year included a trip to Lake Tahoe for the 1960 Winter Olympics where they served as student journalists for the Oakland Tribune. Mom and Dad married in August of 1960 and immediately started their life together in Provo, Utah, and attended BYU.

It was during this first year together that Dad began a number of traditions that continued for the rest of his life, and are now carried on by his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

One special tradition was making sure Christmas was a joyous celebration full of music, decorations, and presents. Mom was an only child and not used to such big celebrations. Dad was intent on showing her the way because he wanted that special season of the year to be meaningful for the family they together hoped to raise.

Mom and Dad’s first Christmas together, despite being struggling college students and having very meager funds, caused Dad to go all out to make it unforgettable.

With a budget of about $15—which was a huge sum of money to them in those days—he plotted a Christmas surprise. On Christmas Eve night he went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. He somehow managed to shimmy through the skinny bathroom window and snuck out of the apartment on a snowy night to retrieve the treasures from Santa’s sleigh.

He thought Mom was sound asleep, but she was not. Later she gleefully retold the story many times of this first Christmas watching Dad running back and forth barefoot in the snow to bring in the treasures.

Her amateur Santa had to toss the wrapped presents one by one through the skinny window, over the stream of still running water, and then get himself back inside without getting caught.

When he emerged from the bathroom, breathing heavily yet shivering from being out in the cold in just a tee-shirt, she had to stifle her giggles into the pillow while still pretending to be asleep.

It was a glorious sight that Christmas morning—the little trimmed tree with many presents to open was festive and foreshadowed the epic Christmases to come in the years ahead.

Of course, being limited in funds as poor college students, Dad had to make it look abundant by wrapping each shoe in its own box. He wrapped bobby pins, boxed food, and other much-needed items individually.

As Mom retold this story year after year you could see how special this was for her. That humble and festive little first Christmas together became the ideal we all tried to replicate in the years ahead.

Dad’s first job in Provo seemed at first to be a dream come true. He had heard that a small local radio station needed a night-time weekend anchor. He applied and got a phone call from the owner of the station, who hired him based upon Dad’s resonant voice alone over the phone.

Dad showed up to work, was shown where all the records were, and told when to air and read the commercials. He was left alone to choose the music, spin the discs, and provide the dialogue. Everything went well for his first weekend until he read a sponsor’s script and mispronounced the name of a local business. The owner was listening and became enraged. Just as he was hired over the phone, he was fired over the phone.

Dad was never paid for that exhaustive weekend of DJ work and never could forget the quick lessons that resulted. He vowed that if he ever owned an enterprise or led a work team, he would never treat people the way he was treated. It was a defining experience that influenced many years of later leadership.

As their life together continued, Dad and Mom moved back to California. They moved in with Mom’s parents for a brief time before buying their first home in Concord, California with the help of both families.

1287 Crawford Street

This was the first family home on Crawford Street in Concord, California.

Our family continued to grow with Debbie, Jeff, and David arriving during these years in Concord.

It was a simple time when Dad completed his education, graduating from the University of California in Berkeley during the height of the Vietnam War and the turbulent protests of the time, getting a degree as a political science major.

During these years he worked at US Steel and as a custodian at his old high school. At night and on weekends Dad would take us with Mom to work with him at the school, beginning another tradition that would endure.

His janitorial training was carefully taught to us as we helped him complete his “night job” and those same skills have now been passed down to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren as we all now know the proper way to use a dustpan and vacuum.

Upon graduating in 1968 Dad started his career with Longs Drug Stores at a store located not far from the little family home on Crawford Street.

As what seemed to have become his way, Dad was nearly fired almost as quickly as he was hired.

He rapidly took to the business and felt he could help improve things by submitting a paper suggesting changes in the operation of the store.

The move did not exactly endear him to store management and he was only rescued by a company executive who liked what Dad had to say. Another valuable lesson in communication and management was learned when given a chance to discuss his ideas.

Kyle J. Westover - College Graduate

A college graduate at age 26, with four children.

Little did he know that this was the start of a 30-year career that saw him go from store clerk to Vice President of Training and Communication, and being known as the “voice of Longs Drugs.”

Dad relied on all his past educational experience to build a training department and a culture that valued customers and employees.

His influence, mentoring, and drive to make sure every employee knew the “Long’s Way” led to life-long friendships and training methods that are now thought of as pioneering and forward-thinking.

Many of Dad’s former staff continued to reach out for mentoring and advice until the day he passed away.

During this time at Longs, both Mom and Dad worked together to develop the training department and culture within the organization. This collaboration between Mom and Dad that started in high school continued on in many different kinds of projects during their 55 years together.

Mom and Dad

While yet in high school, Mom and Dad combined their creative talents, producing exceptional work.

Their work together was magic. Their combined creative processes often produced impactful results for Longs, for church assignments, and for family goals. Watching them work together was a huge influence in the lives of their children and grandchildren. They were partners, soul mates, teammates, and influencers who, when they got together to drive a project or deliver on a deadline, made unbeatable contributions. They could complete each other’s sentences, build on each other’s ideas, and lift each other to ever higher standards. Dad and Mom were made for each other in so many ways that leaned on their creative talents.

In 1969 Dad was promoted and we moved to Lodi, California, where Kris arrived to the family and gave Dad and Mom the second daughter they both greatly wanted.

While in Lodi, Dad’s career took off. Given greater responsibility and the backdrop of a great little market in Lodi to grow a new customer base, Dad and Mom put their combined energies into building a team and a business for Longs in Lodi that was unique and productive. They designed their own ads, made their own promotions, reached out to the local community, and built team relationships by holding training meetings in our own home on weekend nights.

Dad

Dad, behind the photo counter in the Lodi store.

Even as children we were involved in these events. Many a Saturday night we would head to the store with sleeping bags and pillows to bed down in the buyer’s office while Mom and Dad set the sales floor for the new Sunday ad. It was during these years that Jay learned to set an end cap, Debbie learned to make signs and Jeff learned to fill and face product. We all prepped food and cleaned up the house for meetings that always left a buzz of energy in the home from work associates equally committed to the store that Dad helped to lead.

Dad was simply ahead of his time in these efforts, and he got noticed. He was again promoted and asked to expand his efforts to other stores. As he developed his department and worked from home commuting at times from Lodi to Longs’ general office in Walnut Creek, Mom continued to be his devoted partner. The dynamic of their creative talents and ambitious energy led to new outlets.

Dad was called to serve in leadership roles at church. All of the endeavors and project work that Dad and Mom were engaged in were embedded in our family culture. We worked and played together as a family, learning all along the way.

Family Home Evenings at Lodi Lake, dinner at Pizza Garden, sandwiches at Howard’s Deli, surprise trips to Disneyland, and amazing family vacations to Fish Lake, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Dead Horse Point were the stuff of these years. Each trip was filled with stories of Dad’s childhood, his family, and heritage.

Kyle J. Westover

Trolling for trout on Fish Lake while on vacation with Dad. Note the fishing license pinned to the shirt – always legal and always fashionable.

He would use big words from his extensive vocabulary, and when we would ask what it meant he would say ‘look it up” so, yes, a dictionary and thesaurus became part of necessary items to take on vacation.

Dad’s love for music, especially classical music and movie soundtracks, was also part of our travel routine. He would test us on who wrote what piece of music or what movie soundtrack the music came from.

This tradition became so special that it continued as he and Mom would take their grandchildren on trips.

Their grandchildren continued this tradition and now the great-grandchildren can now name the composer and movie soundtrack for hundreds of pieces.

If you are starting to see a commonality to Dad’s priorities and values, it’s because there is.

Dad can best be summed up in these words: family, faith, tradition, teaching, and history.

From monthly father/child discussions on goals and striving to live up to your potential, to Father’s blessings, gospel discussions, the importance of not only knowing history but understanding what it represents, to identifying significant emotional events and their role in your eternal journey, Dad made sure we knew who we were, where we came from, and the deep heritage we inherited from our ancestors and our obligation to honor the past, to embrace the principles of liberty, hard work, fidelity and life with eternity in mind—and to hold tight to the iron rod of gospel truth.

Kyle J. Westover

Family Christmas around 1973 – Mom must be taking the picture.

Dad’s job eventually led the family back to Concord in 1978, where a home was lovingly built by Uncle Darrell and his sons. It formed a small neighborhood of Westover homes.

As always, the loving influence of family, aunts, uncles, and cousins helped shape the lives of myself and my siblings.

As some of us left home, went on to missions, college, and marriage Dad continued the traditions of teaching, the father/child discussions, Father’s blessings, temple attendance, and church service. All along he documented the history of our growing family, now added upon through grandchildren, via photo, video, and the written word.

His influence became generational and his teaching even more wide-ranging. As new personalities entered the family picture, Dad adjusted to his new roles with them with great pleasure.

Granddad

Dad cherished his role as Granddad.

Grandchildren marveled at his pancake-making skills and his ability to tackle any shape or character they asked him for.

He never missed an opportunity to teach. Photography, history, music, journalism, and humor were all taught and passed down to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

To accurately measure the impact Dad has had in his 79 years on earth look to the many tributes and memories being shared on social media and the family website at westoverfamilyhistory.org.

Mom passed away in 2015 and Dad spent the last years of his life focused on family history, capturing and documenting his family. One of Dad’s many pursuits in creating a lasting family record was the work he did to learn the history of Mom’s family that she never got a chance to learn growing up. He came to love the great clan of Begich family members.

Dad was consistent, steadfast, and diligent in teaching us to remember who we are and where we came from. As an educator, Dad was a master storyteller who emphasized that the heart of family history lies in the legends, the experiences, and the contributions of the past.

Sadly, shortly after Mom’s passing Dad was diagnosed with a rare, slow-moving cancer.

As he had done during Mom’s health trials, he learned everything he could about the disease.

He kept tedious records. He worked over his notes and came prepared to discuss how treatment was going. His doctors, much like his work associates during his career, became friends and productive contributors. Dad was adored by his caregivers. They loved his attitude and his spirit of cooperation and goodwill. He remained fiercely loyal to all those working so hard on his behalf, and they responded by “going the extra mile” for him in his fight.

Last year Dad fought off Covid while in his second year of chemo. Jeff moved in and became Dad’s primary caretaker. Together they worked for 14 months to extend his life and continue the many projects he was continually pursuing.

Debbie and Matthew, Kris and Michaela, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Dad’s siblings, and cousins all made time to help in his care to provide both temporal and spiritual support and to help Dad fight the good fight. Dad cherished all these family relationships, working more in his final days to connect and spread love.

Kyle J. Westover

Dad and Jeff exploring pioneer ancestor cemeteries in 2021, a trip taken for family history purposes with Will and LaRee Harvey

He was humbled by their enduring love for him and generous efforts on his behalf. The family forces he tried so hard during our growing up years to teach to us all came home to bear for him during his illness and final days. He was smothered in love and caring from family coast to coast.

Dad’s final day on earth was similar to thousands of days during his life.

He was looking forward—planning for the upcoming holidays, future family history trips with family, and in taking joy in his posterity. He made sure those who contacted him on Monday, knew that they were loved, that he was proud of them and, as always, to remember who we are and those who came before us.

Dad always taught that “history is not what it is, it’s what it represents.”

Family, faith, tradition, teaching, and heritage. These are what he was all about.

Thanks, Dad, for a life well led and an eternity of memories, lessons, and mentoring.

We could not have had a better father, a more loving mentor, or a more trusted friend. We love you.