Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Who among us has not heard the words, "over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go" (author unknown)? These words are among my earliest memories of Thanksgiving Day. It seems like I have always known them. Thanksgiving Day - sometimes irreverently called "Turkey Day" - is a special day set apart for expressing gratitude for blessings. It is usually a day of praying and feasting with family and friends. Thanksgiving Day in the United States and Canada probably descended from festivals held in England. The first Thanksgiving in America was exactly what the words describe. It was simply an expression of gratitude. It took place on the banks of the James River near where Charles City, Virginia, now stands and was held to commemorate the arrival of 38 English settlers on December 4, 1619. The day of arrival was to be observed yearly. The first Thanksgiving in New England took place in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, less than a year after the settlers landed in America. About half of the settlers died during the first winter at Plymouth. The summer of 1621 brought new hope for the settlers. Governor William Bradford organized a celebration to give thanks to God for the blessings received. The festival was held in early autumn and lasted for three days. The menu included ducks, geese, turkeys, clams, fish, plums, leeks, watercress, and corn bread. The cooking was done over outdoor fires, and large tables were set up for eating. About ninety Indians came to the celebration and brought deer to share. Similar celebrations were held in Plymouth annually, but no particular day was set. The custom of celebrating Thanksgiving Day spread to other New England colonies. There was no regular national Thanksgiving Day for many years even though numerous states had regular Thanksgiving holidays. Numerous presidents tried to promote Thanksgiving Day. George Washington proclaimed November 26, 1789, a day of national thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November 1863 as a "day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father." For seventy-five years the President proclaimed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. In 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt - good ole FDR - proclaimed Thanksgiving to be a week earlier. Congress finally passed a law that after 1941 the fourth Thursday in November would be observed as Thanksgiving Day and would be a legal federal holiday. Canada also observes Thanksgiving Day, but the Canadians celebrate on the second Monday in October. The first year that my husband and I drove through Canada we were surprised with all the "Thanksgiving Day" advertisements that we saw. We couldn't understand why there were advertisements almost two months before Thanksgiving. It was only later that I learned that Canada celebrated in a different month. Facts for this post came from an article by Joan R. Gundersen, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 19, 229-230.