Thankful for Thanksgiving
Are you preparing to host this year or do you enjoy hopping in the car to join friends and family and let someone else do the cooking? Here in Massachusetts, we can’t help but feel enthusiasm for Thanksgiving. As you gather ’round the table this year, feast on these facts:
- The first Thanksgiving celebration, in 1621, brought together the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans, who long held ceremonies to give thanks for good harvests. That year was no different and the English settlers enjoyed a bountiful harvest after a rough winter in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They celebrated together over a three-day feast.
- In 1777, the Continental Congress decreed the first national Thanksgiving, replacing individual celebrations in each of the colonies. However, by 1815 this tradition was more common and diversified on the local level, with each state celebrating in different ways and on different days.
- Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor and author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” led a campaign to recognize Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In 1863, after more than 30 years of work, she met with President Lincoln. They discussed how a national holiday to give thanks could unite a divided country mired in war. Lincoln decreed two national Thanksgivings: on August 6, the nation celebrated the victory at Gettysburg and the conclusion of the bloodiest days of the Civil War and on the last Thursday in November they came together for a second celebration.
- Subsequent presidents echoed Lincoln’s decree, issuing Thanksgiving Proclamations for the last Thursday in November — until Franklin Delano Roosevelt came into the White House amid deep economic challenges. In 1939, the last Thursday in November landed on November 30, a scant 24 shopping days before Christmas. Retailers lobbied him to “move back” Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. He responded, proclaiming Thanksgiving to be the next-to-last Thursday of the month, on November 23.
- The country split over FDR’s decision; half the states agreed to move back their celebrations (and school vacations), while half moved forward with festivities on November 30. Colorado and Texas honored both dates.
- In 1941, Congress settled the matter: for the first time, federal law declared Thanksgiving would forever be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.
- Today, “modern” Thanksgiving celebrations often feature the turkey along with local flavors. Here, local farmers often contribute squash and other flavors of the season, while tables further south in Maryland often include crab dishes. In Key West, the Thanksgiving table often features both key lime and pumpkin pie.
More than 40 million Americans will hit the road this year, driving hours to celebrate with friends and family. However you celebrate the bounty of the season, enjoy this time — before the holiday season really heats up!