The feast continues…
Sarah Josepha Hale and Mr. Lincoln
After the American Revolutionary War, people continued to hold more days of thanksgiving, taking George Washington’s example at the conclusion of the Revolution, as a kind of celebration and a day to remember those who died during the war. But “Thanksgiving Day” was still not the holiday we think of today. Major US holidays, like the Fourth of July and Christmas, have become federal holidays for people to take off from work and school. And we have one person to thank for making “Thanksgiving Day” one of the first major federal holidays in our history…Sarah Josepha Hale (pictured to the right).
Sarah, a prominent editor and writer during the nineteenth century for the popular “Godey’s Lady’s Book”, (pictured to the left), was also known as the writer who penned the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. She took a keen interest in Thanksgiving, especially during the height of our American Civil War. For years she wrote about the importance of having a legal Thanksgiving holiday in her magazine as well as several letters to politicians in Washington DC. Finally, after so many letters had been sent out, it was President Abraham Lincoln who listened to her persistent requests at last. In November 1863, he sent out a legal proclamation (see excerpt below) letting it be known that Thanksgiving would be a national holiday in America and to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. After Sarah was pleased with her job well-done, she started to include recipes in her magazine on how to celebrate Thanksgiving and in-so-doing provided some of the recipes of turkey, potatoes and stuffing that we now eat as part of our Thanksgiving Day feasts today. Thank you Sarah and Mr. Lincoln for our Thanksgiving holiday!
FDR and “Franksgiving”
Did you know that for a couple of years Thanksgiving Day was not held on the last Thursday of November but instead on the third Thursday of November? Yes it’s true! Between 1939-1941 during the last years of the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, tipped off by a general manager in retail, actually decided to change the date of Thanksgiving going against Lincoln’s proclamation decades before. This was an attempt to start the holiday shopping season early as, shock beyond shock, it was not commonplace to display Christmas decorations and retail items prior to Thanksgiving during that time (as compared to what it is like today!). This last-minute change in the holiday, derisively dubbed “Franksgiving”, caused such a commotion among the American populace that FDR ultimately had to sign a law in 1941 which declared that Thanksgiving Day would now and forever be held on the fourth Thursday in November, which most states adhered to immediately. In any case, thank FDR for changing the day back to normal!
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Football Season
Some of America’s best-loved traditions, besides gorging yourself for an entire day, not to mention all of the lovely leftovers, have included staying home indoors with your extended family, watching a Thanksgiving Day parade or playing football outdoors. The latter two options you can easily enjoy from the comfort of your living room too! So now let’s see how parades and football have become part of our Thanksgiving celebrations.
One of the longest-running and most famous Thanksgiving parades is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City which started back in 1924 as a way for Macy’s store employees to celebrate Thanksgiving as well as usher in the Christmas shopping season. Each year more floats, balloon creatures, marching bands, celebrities and musical theater acts add to the pageantry of this event, watched by millions of people across America. Its most noted claim to fame was its appearance in the original “Miracle on 34th Street” film in 1947 featuring actual scenes from the previous year’s parade. Santa Claus always closes the event, signaling to everyone that the holiday season has arrived!
The annual football games on Thanksgiving Day actually first teed off back in 1876 when the Yale and Princeton college football teams competed with each other. Soon other football and athletic leagues joined suit and by the time it was a professional sport it was already an institution. With the indoctrination of the NFL in 1920, Thanksgiving games became an official tradition every year since, headed by the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions today. So whatever is your viewing preference, you will find something you can enjoy watching to honor this day!
Pilgrim Children and “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”
As with many cultural American holidays, Thanksgiving is something that American children learn about when they are in preschool and elementary school. Students are told the Thanksgiving story and re-enact the events of the so-called “First Thanksgiving” in school plays, dressing up in costume as “Indians” and “Pilgrims”, oftentimes having a small Thanksgiving party or meal as well as making handy crafts for parents (anyone remember tracing their hand and attaching colorful feathers on their pieces of paper to create a hand turkey?!).
And like any American holiday, what would be complete without an annual TV special! Since they were first produced, the Peanuts specials from the 1960s to the 1990s, created by the late comic strip artist Charles Schultz, have had Charlie Brown, Snoopy and all the rest of the gang celebrating our holidays from Halloween (It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) to Christmas (A Charlie Brown Christmas) and several more. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving originally aired on CBS in 1973 and has been enjoyed by countless children and adults every year since (seen on ABC since 2001). Even this year on Wednesday November 26 you can watch it around 8pm PST on ABC (so now you know what yours truly will be doing around that time!).
Today, Thanksgiving is less a religious holiday and more about a time for family and friends to come together to enjoy a feast at the end of autumn. Some people even go out to help others less fortunate than themselves serving people at churches and civic centers across the country in order to provide a full Thanksgiving meal for those who attend. Thanksgiving also is the beginning of the holiday season and all of the shopping and merriment that will take place ahead (yes there can be stress too but I like to think on the positive side!). And just think it’s only a week away!
So at your Thanksgiving table this year, whether you are enjoying lobster, ham or a “traditional” meal of turkey and stuffing, watching football or the Macy parade, going out or eating in, think of all that has come about to bring this holiday to your table for a true American pastime.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
If you are interested in looking up some more Thanksgiving History try some of these sites:
- http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Ask-an-Expert-What-was-on-the-menu-at-the-first-Thanksgiving.html -An article from Smithsonian magazine to find out what could have been served at the historical 1621 Thanksgiving feast
- http://www.plimoth.org/ A living history museum in modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts where you can learn and discover 17th century life in New England with activities themed around Thanksgiving in November
- http://www.plimoth.org/learn/MRL/read/thanksgiving-history – An article form the Plimoth Plantation website with some more interesting information on Thanksgiving
- http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/ – American’s oldest museum with exhibits on the Pilgrims in New England