How Thanksgiving Got Its Name
The Name Was Not Created, It Was Given.
In retrospect, it might have been a moment in time when the word needed to be spoken out loud and attached to something physical. I explain it as a moment in the evolutionary naming process sprinkled with a dose of spirituality.
In the beginning there was a piece of wood
Growing up in a lower middle class neighborhood in the Bronx, my family did not celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday with a big feast. My first impactful encounter with the Thanksgiving holiday was at the traditional Thanksgiving day football rivalry between Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania. The year was 1959, my senior year at Cornell. My brother and I traveled to Pennsylvania to be at the game. I have no recollection of the game itself, including which team won the game. But after the game, at the final buzzer, my brother and I rushed out of the stands with thousands of other fans to fight for peace of the goalpost which was a tradition back then. With thousands of fans fighting for the crossbar, it was an amazing thrill to be running like a crazy person out of the stadium with a 3 foot piece of the 4 x 4 crossbar under my arm, my brother running at my side. When I left New York City a decade later I loaded it into my '46 Mack truck and headed west. That piece of wood traveled with me and to this day it remains housed in the Mack truck that helped me escape from Greenwich Village to Aspen Colorado a decade later. It remains in the truck, now parked at my home in Mendocino, California.
Cornell vs Penn NCAA Thanksgiving Day Football Game Program 1959
Paul's 1946 Mack Truck
Arriving in Aspen without a clue
Upon arriving in Aspen Colorado in the fall of 1969, I set out to find a job. Not being successful in finding one, and with winter coming on, I did some good panic thinking. It was my first experience with small-town rural living and I still had a Greenwich Village New York city state of mind, so it was just a small leap to consider the possibility of opening a coffeehouse. So I began my search for space. I found the basement at 420 Hyman St., rented it, and began to visualize it how it should look as Aspens first and only coffeehouse. Should it look like the Fat Black Pussycat or the Hip Bagel or should it be more European /Middle Eastern in style like to Café Figaro ? I rented the place for $200 a month and began.
The first miracle
One early morning an old friend from "the village" back in New York city walked down the steps to my partially finished basement Coffee House. I was sanding a tabletop. Now this fellow, Bob Horn, holds a special place in my heart, and in the serendipity in the name, that was eventually given to the unnamed basement we were both standing in. Bob was my first roommate back in 1961 when I moved for my ancestral home in the Bronx to 66 W. 10th St. in Greenwich Village. We were friends for the entire decade of the 60's and in 1969 when I headed my Mack truck West over the George Washington Bridge towards the Rocky Mountains, he was the only friend I could not find to say goodbye to before I left New York City. It was something that bothered me all the way to my final destination, Aspen Colorado. But when good intentions are deep and honest Providence will step in to help. So I'll redirect this story for a moment to the actual time my Mack truck pulled into Aspen on that first fall afternoon in September. My mind was set on locating the closest gas station. I needed to find water for my dog Panda and some for my trucks radiator. We had just come over Independence Pass. That old truck struggled to get over that 14,000 foot hill, and it too was thirsty.
Aspen Coffee House 1969
I helped Panda out of the truck and set out a bowl for water. I noticed another person with the dog heading for the same water at the pump. I looked up and as he got closer I could see it was my dear friend Bob Horn with his dog Daisy. We both arrived in Aspen with our dogs and our trucks at the same time, neither of us is knowing the other was heading for the same place. Providence? What was the meaning of this miracle I thought ? I would soon find out.
A couple of months later Bob walked into my almost finished coffee house to see me working on the table and asked," What are you going call this place?” I looked up from the rough tabletop and without missing a beat I said," I'm going to call this place Thanksgiving. It was a spontaneous response. It just came out in sort of, a burp. Now I don't really know how such things happen. Were higher powers waiting for the moment when they could act to bring "the word" into the world as a name of a coffee house, and they deemed me worthy? Bob smiled, said he would see me later and left me to my tabletop sanding.
Later that day
Bob reappeared as I was finishing up, getting ready to go home and said he had gone to the library to search for the word Thanksgiving as it might appear in the Bible, if at all. He said he found the word Thanksgiving in the New Testament. He had located it by using a book called "The Concordance." The word was located in 1 Timothy 4.
"All things that are God-given should be received with thanksgiving”.
The phrase ring true to me and with that kind of support, plus the preceding miracle of my friend Bob arriving in Aspen at the same moment I did, and heading for the same place as I, both of us wanting to get water for our dogs, I stuck with "the word’ and it became "the name”.
We are not claiming it was a religious naming, but more a spiritual naming. We are happy to bring this uplifting word into every day use, into the light, so to speak, for all to feel the power of the word and the lift it gives when spoken into the world. It is the nicest word in the English language. We hope you enjoy seeing it and starting your morning with Thanksgiving.
Paul Katzeff, Co-founder of Thanksgiving Coffee Company.