Cornucopias date back to ancient times as feast displays to show off abundance and the success of the harvest. The Latin root of the word translates as “horn of plenty,” and in ancient times a goat’s horn would be used to display the riches of the harvest bounty.
Cornucopias have long been a tradition at The Catholic Witness too, as founding photographer extraordinaire Charlie Blahusch would at times arrange a display to photograph for The Witness’ Thanksgiving edition. Paging through the hundreds of issues dating back to 1966 when the newspaper was founded by Bishop George Leech and Charlie, there are numerous still life displays that grace the pages of the paper. For 32 years (1965-1997), Charlie shared his plentiful talents to the faithful of this Diocese.
Several items in this cornucopia are worth mentioning. The bread and grapes are central elements, just as the Holy Eucharist is to every faithful Catholic. The Church’s Eucharistic renewal continues this new liturgical year about to begin. The figs dotting the plenty are symbols of the Middle East, where the fruit grows abundantly and is a stable part of both Israeli and Palestinian diets. May they find the miracle of peace, rather than war. Figs are mentioned some 54 times in Holy Scripture and are a symbol of peace and prosperity. Bible scholars note that it is the only tree named specifically in the Garden of Eden: “When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your ancestors, it was like seeing the early fruit of the fig tree.” (Hosea 9:10)
The humble twig wreath signifies Christ’s crown of thorns placed on His head as He was crucified and humiliated on the mount at Cavalry. The two oak leaves on the left side are from the grand old White Oak witness tree at Devil’s Den, Gettysburg, near where my great, great grandfather Augustus Heisey fought for the 155th Pennsylvania Volunteers and was wounded there in July 1863.
The first official Thanksgiving was November 1863, when President Lincoln released a proclamation in October 1863, just weeks before coming to Gettysburg to deliver a “few appropriate remarks.” In that proclamation that is vintage Lincoln prose, the president mandated that Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday of November beginning that year 160 years ago.
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies….,” Lincoln tells the Civil War weary nation. “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy…. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart and observe the fourth Thursday of November next as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness