They had survived their first raw winter in the new land--a harrowing time of scarce food, hard work and sickness that killed nearly half of the tiny band of 102 Pilgrims who had settled in Plymouth, Mass.
And so they gathered in the autumn of 1621, having been befriended by their Indian neighbors and blessed by a bountiful harvest, to rejoice and give thanks, as was their custom, with a harvest festival.
Three-hundred sixty-four years later, the spirit of that first New England Thanksgiving lives on.
It's a theme with few variations: An annual reunion of family and friends, a festive occasion permeated with the tastes and smells of good things to eat.
But, as years go by, it is the memories of past Thanksgivings and the people we shared them with that help give special meaning to the annual rite of fall.
To find out what significance the national holiday has played in their lives, prominent Orange County residents were asked to share their thoughts on Thanksgivings past and present.
\f7 Harriet Nelson will be spending Thanksgiving with relatives at the Encino home of her son David and his wife, Yvonne.
"Rick is invited--he lives in Studio City--all of Yvonne's family and all the grandchildren," said Nelson, who has six grandchildren and three "honorary" grandchildren (from Yvonne's previous marriage).
Nelson, who moved to her South Laguna beach house seven years ago after selling her home in Hollywood, had the whole family down for Thanksgiving a few years ago but, she said with a laugh: "My house isn't very big and people wound up eating on the floor.
"But in days gone by," she said, "there was no question everybody came to the big house in Hollywood. It was automatic. No invitations were issued, they just knew where they were coming."
Ozzie and Harriet's Hollywood house was the same Cape Cod colonial house shown in the opening scenes of their early television shows.
"It was a big, rambling, old-fashioned house of 14 rooms and there was room for everybody," said Nelson, noting that Thanksgiving dinner for about 20 relatives and a few close friends was always in late afternoon, "and we used to do it in a traditional way."
"We had a very long dining room table, and some of the little people got put in the hall adjacent to the dining room at a table of their own. Ozzie used to take a crack at carving the turkey, and, I may add, he was not very good at it," she said, laughing at the memory.
Thanksgiving dinner with the Nelsons was not a sedate affair.
"It was general hilarity--with Ozzie leading the pack," Nelson recalled. "It was full of family jokes and the 'Do you remembers?': 'Remember the time that grandpa. . . .' It was full of those things."
Ozzie Nelson died in 1975, and in recent years the Nelson family tradition has been to gather at David's house.
"It certainly is a switch in roles for me, I'll tell you that," said Nelson, who added that she keeps "one foot in Laguna and one foot in Studio City," where she shares an apartment with her granddaughter, actress Tracy Nelson.
And what does Thanksgiving mean to Harriet Nelson?
"I'll tell you," she said. "Every day is Thanksgiving for me. I mean it. I give thanks for my family and my friends and good health and in the Lord's support--but not in that order."