Search This Blog

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving History

Since it is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I thought I'd take a moment to focus on a holiday that second to Christmas, I love most, and give a brief history of the day and how its evolved through American history...

December 4, 1619-- 38 English settlers arrived at Berkely Hundred which comprised about 8,000 acres on the north bank of the James River, about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, Virginia where the first permanent settlement had been established in 1607.  The group's charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a "day of thanksgiving" to God.  During the Indian Massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundreds were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The remaining colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.


1621--  The modern Thanksgiving holiday traces its origins from a celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the Plymouth settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. This was continued in later years, first as an impromptu religious observance, and later as a civil tradition. The Pilgrims were taught by the Indians how to catch eel and grow corn. Additionally the Wampanoag Indian leader Massasoithad caused food stores to be donated to the fledgling colony during the first winter when supplies brought from England were insufficient. The Pilgrims set apart a day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest.


 1630-- Massachusetts Bay Colony (consisting mainly of Puritan Christians) celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time, and frequently thereafter until about 1680, when it became an annual festival in that colony; and Connecticut as early as 1639 and annually after 1647, except in 1675. Charlestown, Mass, held the first recorded Thanksgiving observance June 29, 1671 by proclamation of the town's governing council.


1777-- The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Battle of Saratoga. During the 18th century individual colonies commonly observed days of thanksgiving throughout each year. We might not recognize a traditional Thanksgiving Day from that period, as it was not a day marked by plentiful food and drink as is today's custom, but rather a day set aside for prayer and fasting.


October 3, 1789-- George Washington created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States, and again proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795. President John Adamsdeclared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. No Thanksgiving proclamations were issued by Thomas Jefferson but James Madison, the 4th President, renewed the tradition in 1814, in response to resolutions of Congress, at the close of the War of 1812. Madison also declared the holiday twice in 1815; however, none of these were celebrated in autumn.

 ~ "Thanksgiving In Camp"- Winslow Homer

November, 1863-- In the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863 and since then, has been observed annually in the United States.

During the second half of the 19th century, Thanksgiving traditions in America varied from region to region. A traditional New England Thanksgiving, for example, consisted of a raffle held on Thanksgiving eve (in which the prizes were mainly geese or turkeys), a shooting match on Thanksgiving morning (in which  turkeys and chickens were used as targets), church services, and then the traditional feast which consisted of some familiar Thanksgiving staples such as turkey and pumpkin pie, and some not-so-familiar dishes such as pigeon pie. In New York City, people would dress up in fanciful masks and costumes and roam the streets in merry-making mobs. By the end of the century these mobs had morphed into "ragamuffin parades" comprised mostly of costumed children, and by the 20th century the tradition had mostly vanished.

1939--  Lincoln's successors as president followed his example of annually declaring the final Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving. But in 1939, FDR broke with this tradition. November had five Thursdays that year (instead of the usual four), and Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving rather than the fifth one.


With the country still in the midst of Great Depression,  Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would help bring the country out of the Depression. At the time, advertising goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate. Fred Lazarus, Jr, founder of the Federated Department Stores (later Macy's & also currently Bloomingdales), is credited with convincing Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving back a week to expand the shopping season.


Republicans decried the change, calling it an affront to the memory of Lincoln. People began referring to Nov. 30 as the "Republican Thanksgiving" and Nov. 23 as the "Democratic Thanksgiving" or "Franksgiving." Many localities had made a tradition of celebrating on the last Thursday, and many football teams had a tradition of playing their final games of the season on Thanksgiving; with their schedules set well in advance, they could not change. Since a presidential declaration of Thanksgiving Day was not legally binding, Roosevelt's change was widely disregarded. Twenty-three states went along with Roosevelt's recommendation, 22 did not, and some, like Texas could not decide and took both days as government holidays.


 October 6, 1941-- Congress passed a joint resolution in 1941 fixing the traditional last-Thursday date for the holiday beginning in 1942.  In '40 and '41, years in which November had four Thursdays, Roosevelt had declared the third one as Thanksgiving and as in 1939, some states went along with the change while others retained the traditional last-Thursday date.  After 1941, Thanksgiving became a matter of federal law.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.