Pig to president: Pardon me

Thanksgiving actually began in Virginia, and it featured pork.

For 60 years, the president of the United States has stepped into the Rose Garden around Thanksgiving and pardoned a turkey.

This year, President Bush should pardon a pig as well.

Why? It's a long, mistaken history.

Most Americans believe the first Thanksgiving held by English colonists was in Massachusetts, where the meal supposedly featured turkey.

Over the past few years a number of writers, and even The History Channel, have taken to debunking the "myths" of the first Thanksgiving. They have been so bold as to challenge the idea that the first Thanksgiving meal included turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.

But they haven't gotten to the real meat of the issue: the documented fact that the first Thanksgiving didn't take place in Massachusetts, but in Virginia.

The first English colonists to offer up their prayer of Thanksgiving stood on the James River banks in Berkeley, Va., on Dec. 4, 1619, almost two whole years before the Pilgrim feast. Their charter spelled out that they must give thanks upon arrival and keep that day as a perpetual, annual day of Thanksgiving.

As former Virginia Gov, Gerald Baliles (D) wrote this month in the Richmond-Times Dispatch, "Let us not allow Virginia's First Thanksgiving to languish in the mists of time. It could, should, and ought to be the gift of history that never stops giving."

This is not Southern legend, but American colonial history. And it has been dismissed as a joke on too many occasions by people who should treat the nation's history with more respect.

Gov. Baliles pointed out that "on Nov. 9, 1962, Virginia State Sen. John J. Wicker sent a telegram to President John F. Kennedy, taking issue with the previous year's [pro-Pilgrim] Thanksgiving Proclamation."

According to Baliles, Senator Wicker insisted he had proved to the governor of Massachusetts the validity of Virginia's claim to the first Thanksgiving by simply providing the historical documentation.

In response, Wicker received an apology from White House adviser and historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Writing on behalf of the president, Mr. Schlesinger attributed the "error" to "unconquerable New England bias on the part of the White House staff."

President Kennedy's next Thanksgiving proclamation stated that "over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of Thanksgiving."

Those Virginians had a meager meal of ham or bacon from their stores and possibly some oysters dug from the James River, not turkey.

So for 60 years, presidents have pardoned the wrong critter.

But there's an emerging movement to set the record straight at long last.

More than 6,000 children have signed a petition to Mr. Bush to pardon Ginny (short for Virginia), a pig awaiting justice at the Virginia Zoo. Virginia Sen. John Warner (R) and Rep. Thelma Drake (R) have appealed to the chief executive for a pig pardon. Mayor Meyera Oberndorf (D) of Virginia Beach has issued her own pardon.

Ginny's online campaign is also raising money for the Federation of Virginia Food Banks.

A century and a half ago, Sarah J. Hale of Boston, a mother of five and author of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," asked the president to create a national day of thanks and honor the Pilgrims. Her suggestion ended up providing a powerful way to help heal a divided country.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln decided to create the holiday in an attempt to unify the nation. But for obvious reasons, he couldn't honor Virginia's history – so it became a Massachusetts holiday instead.

Today, the country is again at war, and people are bitterly divided. As a children's book writer and mother of four, I call upon Bush to invite Ginny to the Rose Garden for her long-overdue moment of recognition.

As fun and frivolous as it may seem, this act of mercy in time of strife could serve to remind Americans that no matter what their political opinions or issues, they are still thankful to be one nation, giving thanks to a higher power, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Even if the simple act wouldn't restore unity to the country, it could at least help set American history straight.

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