A Bite of Turkey Day History
We would like to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving, and to share this story as well.
In 1789, during his first year as President, George Washington proclaimed today a National Day of Thanksgiving in honor of the new American Constitution. In doing so, he gave prominence to a holiday that Americans had first celebrated in 1621 and had continued to celebrate sporadically over the intervening years.
But Thanksgiving has always been a movable feast. The famous first one was celebrated sometime in early October by the 56 Pilgrim colonists who still survived from the 102 who had landed with the Mayflower the previous November. They invited 90 members of the Wampanoag Indian tribe to join them in a three-day harvest festival.
During the ensuing years Thanksgiving was mostly not held at all, and when it was, it was a local affair on varying dates. In 1777 for the first time, all thirteen of the nation’s states agreed on a single Thanksgiving Day in October, but this was really to commemorate the American victory over the British at Saratoga, the month before, rather than a harvest festival.
Despite Washington’s declaration, Thanksgiving did not become an official American institution, but in 1827 a 39-year-old New Englander named Sarah Josepha Hale initiated her tireless campaign to have it formally recognized. The next year she became America’s first female editor of a magazine when she was asked to take charge of the Ladies’ Magazine and,
later, Godey’s Lady’s Book. She used both publications as forums for continuing her crusade (while on the side penning the children’s verse “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, a poem that became so famous that in 1877 Thomas Edison recorded himself reciting it for the first public demonstration of his gramophone).
Finally, after 36 years of writing to presidents, governors and senators, Sarah Hale was rewarded when, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday, specifying that it should always take place on the last Thursday in November.
Even then, there was one more change to come. In 1939 the United States found itself in the midst of a worldwide depression and wanted to boost consumer purchases. Therefore, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving Day a week earlier—On the fourth, not the last, Thursday of November—to give American consumers one more week of shopping before Christmas. It has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November ever since.
Great Stories from History for Everyday of the Year by W.B. Marsh & Bruce Carrick
Steven, Gigi, Frank, Danielle, and Marcie
The Bedminster Group