Susan Sarah here, and it’s not just any Thursday…but Thanksgiving Day, when American families gather and reunite, share a huge feast of turkey and trimmings, maybe watch parades and football—and take time to be grateful for the plenty and blessings in our lives.
Most of our American readers may be busy today, cooking, entertaining, traveling, or some combination of all three – I am, too, with my family coming to our house this year. Soon I’ll have run baste the turkey and start peeling potatoes!
And since it’s a blog of historical writers, I’ll post a few historical tidbits appropriate to the day…
Traditionally the first Thanksgiving is accepted as the three-day event that was held in the autumn of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, when a group of fifty Colonists invited ninety Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe to share a harvest feast in gratitude for surviving the year, after a harsh winter and scarce growing season. They feasted on wild turkey, duck, venison, lobsters, clams, fish, vegetables, and fruits. This list of course included pumpkin. They held athletic displays and contests and a military review too. By all accounts, everyone was amiable, had a great time, and stuffed themselves with food.
One colonist, Edward Winslow, reported:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, Many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
A few Thanksgiving firsts —
1630 — The first repeated Thanksgiving – July,1630, when Gov. Winthrop declares a feast day:
“Wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne, rejoyce together…”
The first time Thanksgiving was declared a local holiday: November 13, 1775, Massachusetts Colony:
“We have thought fit…to appoint THURSDAY the Twenty-third Day of November…a Day of public THANKSGIVING, throughout the Colony….”
1789 — The first national declaration of Thanksgiving:
President George Washington proclaims November 26, 1789 as a day of Thanksgiving:
"Being the day appointed for a thanksgiving I went to St. Pauls Chapel…but few people at Church…"
(George! They were all home eating dinner and watching Footeballe!)
1846 – The first campaign to establish a national day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November: Sarah Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, starts a letter-writing campaign to the government
1864 – Abraham Lincoln agrees with Sarah Hale, who is still writing letters, and the last Thursday in November holiday is established later that year
1924 – Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City
1941 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress legislate the declaration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be held the last Thursday in every November (finally!)
1947 – President Harry Truman pardons the first Thanksgiving turkey at the White House, so that it would be spared and left to live a long, contented, unthreatened life on a wildlife farm (which always makes me sad for the other turkeys)
So things haven’t changed much—we still feast on fowl (thankfully dispatched by someone else), we have the turkey feast and pumpkin pie, we have reviews in the form of parades, and the athletic contests are now football games. And we still take time to give thanks for our neighbors, friends, and families, and for all the good in our lives.
All in all, a pretty cool holiday, and one of my personal favorites. Football is very big in our house and in our family, going way back to 1939 when my dad’s first cousin was an early NFL draft pick from Notre Dame to Pittsburgh. I have very fond memories of the whole family cramming themselves with the grand feast prepared by most everyone (we all pitched in, even the guys). Then we would sit down to watch whatever game was on TV. The shouting and hooting over the game is always a real highlight. I still remember the time my mother, who is no longer with us, was watching the game quietly, when she suddenly leaped up to shout “JesusMaryandJoseph, GET THAT BALL!”
We still laugh about that, and such memories of those gone make the holiday even sweeter for those who still gather together every last Thursday in November.
May friends and family surround you, may your day be loving and joyful, and your feast fantastic. For those who are outside the USA and might not celebrate Thanksgiving, may your day be wonderful also!
Gotta go peel some potatoes!