Happy Thanksgiving MAPpers! This week we celebrate with our friends and family a day of national Thanksgiving for all the good and beautiful people and moments in our lives. We are brining our turkeys, mashing our potatoes and pumpkining our pies in this special Thanksgiving edition of the MAP blog and now we present to you an informative history of Thanksgiving!
Let’s start with an overview of what it means to have a Thanksgiving. Traditionally, a day of Thanksgiving was not an observed holiday, nor did it necessarily involve a feast; a day of Thanksgiving was generally given whence achieving some sort of victory either in battle or from a fantastic harvest or even the long awaited arrival on dry land after months at sea. Generally a religious celebration, it was a way of offering thanks for overcoming a feat either through a day of rest, a festival, or a feast—in modern America we do all three.
The pilgrims that held the traditional “first” Thanksgiving (or rather what we base our tradition on today) were English separatists (not to be confused with Puritans) who celebrated a three day thanksgiving in 1621 in Massachusetts along with the Native American leader Squanto and his tribe following a particularly bountiful harvest. They served various fowl, venison, and corn. They would celebrate after another successful harvest two years later in 1623. It became an annually celebrated festival in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the first time in 1680.
During the Revolutionary War various days of thanksgiving were celebrated following wins at Saratoga and York. Presidents Washington and Adams both made Thanksgiving proclamations during their presidencies but the practice subsided until the end of the War of 1812 when President James Madison declared a national day of Thanksgiving once again. Following this, some states (particularly New York) began practicing regularly observed Thanksgiving days.
The Civil War began in 1861 and ripped the country in two. American vs American, brother vs brother, black vs white; America needed a boost. Lincoln proclaimed an official National Day of Thanksgiving in 1863, to be celebrated annually on the last Thursday of every November. Secretary of State William Seward wrote the proclamation:
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. 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. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.” Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863.”
Following the war this lead to many traditions that we see today: football games, parades, and a large turkey dinner. As is prone to happen when something becomes politicized, President Franklin Roosevelt came under much scrutiny from political rivals during the great depression when he proposed moving, during a November with five Thursdays, Thanksgiving Day up a week. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, President Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, President Roosevelt hoped, would help bring the country out of the Depression. At the time, advertising goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate.
Republicans decried the change, calling it an affront to the memory of Lincoln. People began referring to November 30 as the “Republican Thanksgiving” and November 23 as the “Democratic Thanksgiving” or “Franksgiving.” Regardless of the politics, 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, President Roosevelt’s change was widely disregarded. Twenty-three states went along with President Roosevelt’s recommendation, 22 did not, and some, like Texas, could not decide and took both days as government holidays.
President Reagan was the first president to officially pardon a turkey, which would then be sent to a petting zoo rather than slaughtered. A tradition upheld by every administration since, it was initially meant as a joke as President Reagan happened to be simply unsatisfied with the size of the bird, but President George H.W. Bush made it a permanent tradition in 1989.
And there it is, an abridged version of the history of Thanksgiving here in the United States. It may seem an annual standard to all of us today but we have to be reminded of those countless millions that suffered and struggled to the point that a day of Thanksgiving was a truly blessed thing to be recognized—it was a brief glimmer of hope during famine, plague and war. We here at MAP are very thankful for all of our friends and families and all of you; the people that make it possible to come in and want to the very best we can. So to you all we want to wish you a very, very Happy Thanksgiving!