Since it is Thanksgiving week, I have decided to refrain from writing about the European debt crisis, the “Occupy” crowd, political turmoil, or any of the other topics currently being piped into our homes by the 24-hour news channels we can’t seem to turn off. I would like instead to write about one of my favorite holidays, one which is almost completely American (hello, Canada, we know you had yours last month) – Thanksgiving!
From the time I volunteered as a 4th-grader to decorate the classroom bulletin boards with construction paper pilgrims and turkeys (way more fun than actually listening to the teacher), I’ve loved this holiday. What could be better than an entire day devoted to giving thanks for our blessings by eating and watching football? No wonder it has become an American tradition!
I did a little research (which means I surfed the internet), and I found out that there is actually much lively debate about the location of that “first” Thanksgiving. Those bulletin boards I made as a child depicted the traditional Plymouth, Massachusetts festival in 1621. However, there is some pretty convincing evidence that the first Thanksgiving was in 1565 in St. Augustine, Florida. (Florida???) In addition, those folks in Virginia actually codified a harvest holiday in their charter in 1619, two years before the pilgrims had their feast.
Controversy aside, our modern holiday can be attributed to the hard work of New Hampshire native Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer and editor and the composer of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” who lobbied for 17 years for a national holiday. Sarah was a strong advocate of the Union and finally appealed to President Abraham Lincoln in a letter that pointed out the need for a unifying day for the country, since at the time we were blowing each other to bits. President Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863 for a national holiday, to be observed on the final Thursday of November. I’m not sure how much influence that holiday had on ending the war, but for her efforts Sarah now has her own bobblehead doll, which can be purchased in the museum store at the New Hampshire Historical Society. I did not make that up.
Another interesting tidbit uncovered by my surf through the internet was the controversy that surrounded the change of the date for Thanksgiving to its current place on our November calendar, the fourth Thursday of the month. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week to prolong the holiday shopping season in an attempt to stimulate the still-moribund economy. Republicans rebelled against this change of tradition and, for a couple of years, there were two Thanksgivings: the later Thanksgiving became the “Republican Thanksgiving,” and the earlier date was known as “Franksgiving” or “Democrat Thanksgiving.” Congress intervened in 1941 and adopted a resolution setting the fourth Thursday of November as the legal holiday and things settled down.
So, as you all sit down with your families and friends this week for football and turkey (since most of us don’t do much harvesting these days), remember two things. First and foremost, count your blessings and give thanks for them. Second, Americans have always found ways to disagree with each other and we always seem to prevail in spite of it!