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 Thanksgiving for Bill Steiner means a time to renew the much-needed balance in his life.
As director of Orangewood Children's Home, the county's emergency shelter for mistreated children, Steiner said he usually sees "the dark side of society, where innocent children are brought here as victims of abuse and neglect."
A 25-year veteran of social work with abused children, Steiner said continual exposure to such misery can result in a "skewed view of life." But, he said, it also tends to make him appreciate his own family, which includes his wife Nancy and their five children, ages 10 to 22.
This year they will get together with Steiner's mother in Los Angeles, along with other relatives, for a traditional turkey dinner. "Thanksgiving for our family has always had a special meaning in terms of closeness and what we've been blessed with in contrast to what I see on a daily basis: hundreds and thousands of abused and neglected children, without families, who don't have much to be thankful for.
"The strength I feel from my own family gives me the strength to follow through with my commitment to take care of other people's children.
"You have to have a sense of balance in your life," he said. Thanksgiving for him is a time to find that balance and put things in perspective. "My family helps make me realize there can be a better side to life and more for children in terms of the future."