Thanksgiving with Mary Baker Eddy

By
  • Kelly Byquist
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This article is part of our Longyear for Kids series, written with our younger audience in mind. See more articles in the series here.


Did you know that a turkey dinner with all the trimmings was Mary Baker Eddy’s favorite meal to serve to guests? And did you know that the main course was always followed by dessert — at least two or three different kinds — “so that everyone was sure to find something he could enjoy”?1

Here’s what was on the Thanksgiving menu for November 29, 1900,2 at Pleasant View, Mrs. Eddy’s home in Concord, New Hampshire:

Wow! It’s hard to imagine anyone gathered around that dinner table going hungry, isn’t it? How does Mrs. Eddy’s menu compare with what your family serves?

Food wasn’t the only thing Mrs. Eddy was thinking about on that particular Thanksgiving, however. When a Boston newspaper asked her what she thought the holiday should signify to all mankind, Mrs. Eddy replied in part, “the Bible better understood and Truth and Love made more practical; the first commandment of the Decalogue more imperative, and, ‘loving thy neighbor as thyself,’ more possible and pleasurable.”3

“Loving your neighbor” certainly describes the way Mrs. Eddy celebrated Thanksgiving. She loved to invite those who had no home of their own — she affectionately called them “orphans” — to spend the holiday with her, welcoming them “to Mother’s home for dinner.”At Thanksgiving time in 1895, she wrote to one, “I have invited some of my students who must miss their home and friends on that festal day to come and sit at our table and we will try to cheer them and bless them.”5

Snow often carpeted the ground by the end of November when Mary Baker Eddy was growing up in frosty New England. Currier and Ives, “Home to Thanksgiving,” 1867. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

A day of thanksgiving and praise

Growing up in Bow, New Hampshire, just 100 miles north of Plymouth, Massachusetts, young Mary Baker would have been familiar with tales of the first harvest meal shared between the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians in 1621. When those religious reformers left England and crossed the Atlantic Ocean seeking freedom and prosperity, they faced a harsh first winter in New England. Thanks to several Native American groups who taught the newcomers how to harvest corn, extract sap from maple trees, and catch fish, the colonists survived. In gratitude, Governor William Bradford organized a three-day feast to celebrate, and in the centuries that followed, giving thanks to God for prosperity and blessing while sharing a meal was common.

Although it would not become a national holiday until the latter half of the 19th century, Thanksgiving was celebrated widely in New England during Mrs. Eddy’s childhood, and several early letters between the Baker family members mention the holiday. The festive meal would have been especially meaningful to farming families like the Bakers, who raised and produced almost all their own food, and who would have proudly displayed and feasted upon the fruit of that year’s harvest.6In 1837, when Mary Baker was 16 years old, the influential American writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale advocated for a national day of celebration — one in which the spirit of the holiday would best be expressed “in making others happy.”Whether or not she was aware of Mrs. Hale’s efforts, Mary would take this sentiment to heart in her own future Thanksgiving celebrations.

On October 3, 1863, during the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln finally established Thanksgiving as a national holiday. It would be, he proclaimed, a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”8

This picture of Mary Baker Eddy was taken on Thanksgiving Day 1891. Photograph, P0027-7, Longyear Museum collection.

Counting our blessings

Eventually, Mrs. Eddy’s love of Thanksgiving would lead her to establish a Thanksgiving church service. These services are a time for church members and visitors to come together and be grateful for their blessings. A message from the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, is followed by a special time for “testimonies by Christian Scientists, appropriate for the occasion,” as the Church Manual puts it.9

“How good it is to remember our mercies, and to remember nothing else,” Mrs. Eddy wrote at Thanksgiving time in 1896.10 And in the first chapter of Science and Health she asks us: “Are we really grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more.”11

Wild turkeys love to graze upon the front lawn of Mrs. Eddy’s home in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

Notes


  1. “Mrs. Eddy always planned the dinner herself when she invited guests.” Margaret Macdonald, “Reminiscences,” 7, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library, Boston, Massachusetts (hereafter referenced as MBEL). The information on desserts is from cook Minnie Weygandt, “Reminiscences of Miss Minnie Bell Weygandt and of Miss Mary Ellen Weygandt,” 34, MBEL.
  2. Ibid., 35-36.
  3. “For God and Country: Thanksgiving Thoughts from Notable Churchmen,” Boston Globe, November 29, 1900. Mary Baker Eddy’s contribution “to the people of New England, which is the birthplace of Thanksgiving Day,” as the Globe put it, was titled “Christian Science Thanks.” It was reprinted in the Christian Science Sentinel 3 (December 6, 1900): 216, and would also later appear in edited form in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, 264-265.
  4. Irving Tomlinson reminiscence, 741, MBEL. Janette E. Weller, “The Human Side of Mrs. Eddy,” We Knew Mary Baker Eddy Vol. 2 (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 2013), 49.
  5. Mary Baker Eddy to Ebenezer Foster Eddy, November 24, 1895, L01985, MBEL.
  6. The holiday was sometimes the only day of the year when the entire family — including brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and more — would see each other. Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) gives a detailed description of the New England Thanksgiving tradition in her book Northwood: “The table, covered with a damask cloth, vieing in whiteness, and nearly equaling in texture, the finest imported, though spun, woven and bleached by Mrs. Romelee’s own hand, was now intended for the whole household, every child having a seat on this occasion, and the more the better, it being considered an honor for a man to sit down to his Thanksgiving supper surrounded by a large family. The provision is always sufficient for a multitude, every farmer in the country being, at this season of the year, plentifully supplied, and every one proud of displaying his abundance and prosperity.” Sarah Hale, Northwood: A Tale of New England (Boston: Bowles & Dearborn, 1827), 108-109.
  7. Sarah J. Hale, Traits of American Life (Philadelphia: E. L. Carey & A. Hart, 1835), 210, 225. Sarah Josepha Hale is most widely known today for her poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and for advocating for a national Thanksgiving holiday. She would spend 40 years as the influential editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, one of the most widely-read magazines of the 19th century. One of the writers who contributed to this journal was Mary Baker Eddy (in 1853, when she was Mary M. Glover). Sarah’s first Thanksgiving editorial appeared in 1837, during the first year of her editorship.
  8. Before Abraham Lincoln designated Thanksgiving Day a national holiday, the Governor of each state would decide whether the holiday would be officially observed (although it was celebrated privately before that). Mary was living in New Hampshire in 1847 when the Governor inaugurated the state’s first annual Thanksgiving Day celebration. That year, 24 of the 29 U.S. states celebrated Thanksgiving at some point. Peggy Baker, “The Godmother of Thanksgiving: The Story of Sarah Josepha Hale,” Pilgrim Society and Pilgrim Hall Museum, 2007, see online here.
  9. Mary Baker Eddy, Church Manual, 124.
  10. Mary Baker Eddy to Captain Joseph S. Eastaman, November 30, 1896, L03474, MBEL.
  11. Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 3.

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