Thanksgiving, 1621 to 2010

This holiday has certainly changed in modern times. Today, we look forward to turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, and our other favorite vegetables, along with pumpkin pie and more. Typically, we follow up with a good visit with family and friends while watching a parade or two, and maybe some football.

Our Thanksgiving today is so different from the first one so many centuries ago. In my mind’s eye, I can see those first pilgrims and Native Americans – truly giving thanks for merely being alive and surviving another day. Today, we do not worry so much about surviving the winter in the manner of the Plymouth settlers at Plymouth Plantation in 1621.

In early October of 1789, President George Washington created the national holiday of Thanksgiving by his proclamation, “Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”    

The next Thanksgiving proclaimed by President Washington was that of 1795.  The years of 1798 and 1799 also have record of official proclamations of Thanksgiving, but then the practice fell by the way until 1814. In the following years, Thanksgiving was a somewhat hit or miss holiday, usually set by individual governors of the states.

It was during the War Between the States that President Abraham Lincoln again proclaimed the national holiday, creating a holiday more as we know it today. In his proclamation, President Lincoln said, “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Throughout the land, citizens celebrated the new holiday in many different ways.  Most Americans celebrated in ways particular to their region. For their part, the presidents following President Lincoln maintained the tradition which began in the middle of the war. During The Great Depression, however, President Roosevelt tried to move the holiday a week earlier to give people more of an opportunity to enhance the Christmas shopping season. This did not set well with many.

On the 6th of October, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed resolutions to make the last Thursday of each year the national holiday we know today. President Roosevelt signed the joint bill into law on December 26, 1941.

The turkey dinner is one that mimics the traditional meal, which many ate during the first Thanksgiving of 1621. In 1947, the National Turkey Federation began supplying the White House with two dressed turkeys and one live bird. The living turkey is the lucky bird that receives the presidential pardon during the holidays.

Here’s wishing you and your family and friends a wonderful Thanksgiving.


©2010 J. Clark

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2 Responses to Thanksgiving, 1621 to 2010

  1. flyinggma says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to your family! Thanks for the history lesson on Thanksgiving. I love how even back then they were trying to enhance the Christmas shopping experience.

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