The story of the First Thanksgivings is about the Mayflower’s passengers, the New England’s Pilgrims who invited the warm hosts, the local Native Americans to share a meal with them and nothing of the things you find connected to Thanksgiving were part of that feast, not even close. Thanksgiving has historical roots in religious and cultural tradition, but it has long been celebrated in a secular manner as well. But, let’s start from the very beginning.
Thanksgiving didn’t become an annual tradition until more than 200 years later. That first Thanksgiving in 1621 wasn’t just a big meal, it was a three-day festival of eating, hunting and other entertainments in honor of the pilgrim’s first successful corn harvest. The Indians killed 5 deer as gifts for the colonists, so venison was definitely on the first Thanksgiving menu, but turkey was not. They also didn’t have pumpkin pie or potatoes which hadn’t been introduced to New England yet. And while they may have eaten cranberries they would have been served plain but not in a sauce or relish. The pilgrims didn’t plan on starting a Thanksgiving tradition. In fact, they didn’t repeat the November celebration in subsequent years.
So, in 1784, Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to his daughter, suggested that the wild turkey would be a more appropriate national symbol for the newly independent United States than the bald eagle (which had earlier been chosen by the Continental Congress). He argued that the turkey was “a much more respectable Bird”, “a true original Native of America” and “though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage”.
In 1789 president George Washington announced the first ever National Thanksgiving holiday which took place on Thursday, November 26th 1789, but it didn’t become an annual tradition nationwide until the 19th century. That’s when an american writer named Sara Josepha Hale, most famous for writing the nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb”, was inspired by a diary of pilgrim life to recreate that first Thanksgiving feast. In the 1827 Hale wedged a nearly 40 year campaign and petitioning 13 presidents to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She also published recipes for pumpkin pie, turkey and stuffing that probably didn’t appear on the pilgrims’ plates but would become the staples of modern Thanksgiving meals. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, president Abraham Lincoln announced that the nation would celebrate Thanksgiving every year on the final Thursday of November. In 1939 the president Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to move the holiday up a week to give depression retailers more time to make more money during the pre-Christmas shopping season. The move was widely criticized and it was called Franksgiving, so in 1941, FDR signed a bill fixing things giving it on a fourth Thursday in November, where it stays today.
One of the corkiest Thanksgiving tradition began in 1989 when president George H.W. Bush granted the first official pardon to a turkey. Every November since then the current oval office occupant has given a retreat to one or two turkeys sending them to a retirement on farm rather than to a dinner table. That only began in the late 20th century.
Parades have also become an integral part of the holiday, they started in 1920 from a Philadelphia store Gimbel, but the primate has been taken away when in 1924, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade presented by Macy’s department store attracted 3 million spectators along 2.5 mile route and drawing an enormous television audience enjoying the march of bands, performers, elaborate floats conveying various celebrities and giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters, along with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and the cast of well-known Broadway shows.
Turkey, cranberries, parade, NFL, family gathering, thankfulness, it also summons in Thanksgiving Day, which already is.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Be thankful for the blessings you have and the power of God for the life he guides you everyday. Live, love and learn everyday.
Enjoy the day.