Every year now we seem to find new ways to corrupt Thanksgiving. The facts about Thanksgiving have always been kind of inconvenient. It’s true history, meaning and origin has somehow created a state of endless debates.
There are debates about stores open on Thanksgiving, debates about how Thanksgiving is taught wrong in schools, debates about debating politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table and now even a debate about if we should call Thanksgiving Thanksgiving.
It is a pretty simple holiday – a celebration of gratitude for life’s goodness. Who can’t get behind that?
For that Thanksgiving has become in the minds of some there are some things most do not realize about Thanksgiving. It’s history in reality is not discussed much and it should be:
- Thanksgiving is not American – Long before any Europeans set foot in North America it was a practice from time to time for governments to declare periods for “thanksgiving”. This was especially true in the British empire. But while mostly tied to Christianity the idea of “giving thanks” is not new. The Greeks and many other ancient cultures all celebrated feast days dedicated to “giving thanks”. Hindus, Muslims and others also have had similar observances from time to time.
- Thanksgiving was celebrated long before Puritans and Pilgrims. The first Thanksgiving in North America was not at Plymouth Colony, as most seem to think. It was actually far earlier among British explorers who had ventured far up the Hudson in Canada. “Thanksgiving” however was not a set day. It happened when it was declared – and it could be declared several times a year. A “day of thanksgiving” could be declared to a variety of purposes – a battle won, a good harvest achieved, or the birth of royalty. Governments had many reasons to declare such days.
- Turkey, Pumpkin and Cranberries are very American. Almost without except “days of thanksgiving” feature food. But the types of food used for feasting on such days will differ from culture to culture. American Thanksgiving became associated with turkey, pumpkin and cranberries because all of those items are native to North America and were in abundance. Pumpkin especially was a novelty to Europeans arriving in the New World. Being a mild squash it could be made into a variety of tasty dishes, especially sweet dishes like pie. Early news reports from the late 1600s show rabid popularity for pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.
- Thanksgiving was HUGE long before Abraham Lincoln Declared it a Holiday. Thanksgiving became a holiday thanks to a decades long campaign. From the founding of the United States until about 1870 there were no officially recognized federal holidays. The Civil War changed all that. But Thanksgiving was celebrated as a matter of practice from the days of the Pilgrims in 1621. In fact, their traditions are what gave rise to the widespread practice of acknowledging Thanksgiving as a harvest festival that nearly everyone participated in. George Washington, as president, declared a day of Thanksgiving, as did every president after him. So while it wasn’t “official” it was very much a thing. In fact, it was BIGGER than Christmas.
- Pilgrims and Puritans are Patriotic. As Christmas grew in popularity in the 1840s so too did the idea that having ancestry tied to Pilgrim and Puritan roots was a big deal. We can thank popular American writers such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who had used his family ancestry in writings about Puritan life and the celebration of Thanksgiving. In fact, it was a fad of the 19th century to uncover roots dating back to the Mayflower. Anyone who could do so could be considered a patriotic American.
- Thanksgiving is a religious holiday and nobody cares. Without exception every declared day of Thanksgiving – including this one – invokes the name of God and calls the nation to prayer in gratitude. While Christmas suffers from debates of separation of church and state Thanksgiving never does.