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Thanksgiving

THANKSGIVING

THANKSGIVING. The classic representation of Thanksgivinga crowded dinner table set in the open air on a golden autumnal afternoon in Plymouth Colony, 1621might include some anachronisms such as apples, potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and cranberry sauce, but the gathered Pilgrims and their Wampanoag Indian guests are sure to have one of the "great store of wild turkeys" if not the geese, ducks, and venison that founded the historic feast, bowls of assorted root vegetables, and pumpkin pies. It is an idyllic scene, but it has nothing to do with how the Thanksgiving holiday historically began in America.

There never was a true "first" American Thanksgiving from which all subsequent celebrations derived. Thanksgiving did not originate in America at all, but arrived with the intellectual baggage of New England's Puritan colonists. Having banished the medieval roster of holidays including Christmas and saint's days, the reformers admitted only three holy days: the Sabbath, fast days, and Thanksgivings. Fasts and Thanksgivings subsequently appeared independently in each of the New England colonies (except Rhode Island). Each was like an extra Sabbath during the week, requiring church attendance and sober activity, but a big dinner following the meeting was customary on days of thanksgiving and praise. Eventually, fast days were relegated to the spring (when there was nothing to eat) to petition God for a successful season, while autumnal Thanksgivings celebrated the cumulative blessings of the year, including the fruits of the harvest.

As Puritans metamorphosed into Yankees, the social and gustatory character of the day overtook and then equaled the religious observation in consequence. The preparation for the feast began weeks before with Sunday readings of the governor's proclamation. Apples, spices, suet and lean beef were chopped for mincemeat. Massive numbers of pies and tarts were baked of mince, pumpkin, apple, cranberry, and other fillings, intended to last well beyond the holiday. Livestock and fowl were slaughtered and prepared for the spit, pot, or chicken pie (which might take six birds, bones and all). The requisite turkey was gotten from the barnyard, market, or turkey shoot where poor shots underwrote the costs of better marksmen. Charity was an important holiday element. Food supplies, unprepared (including flour, rice, sugar, and even turkeys) or cooked, were given to the poor by prosperous families and sent to prisons by town officials.

As Thanksgiving approached, family and friends assembled at the patriarchal homesteads. Thanksgiving balls were very popular, and women made sure that their clothes were the best and newest possible, despite grumbling about impious frivolity among the more devout. On the day itself, the more respectable attended morning service in the meetinghouse, before returning for the customary feast prepared by the women and servants of the household. The significators of a true New England Thanksgiving dinner were firmly established by the time of the American Revolution: the all-important turkey in place of honor, the massive chicken pie flanked by ducks, geese, and cuts of "butcher's meat," plum pudding, bowls of vegetable and fruit "sass" (sauce), and of course the pies. Following the dinner, the company might relax around the fire with wine or cider, dried fruits, and nuts to play games, tell stories, or in more pious households, to continue their religious exercises in the private sphere and welcome the minister's evening call. Alternately, sleighing visits to other households were popular, as were dances and weddings.

Even before 1800, many households got their holiday foodstuffs not from the family farmstead but in the marketplace. The food was processed, prepared, and served by the housewife to as many family, friends, and dependents as could be accommodated. Later, the emphasis shifted to kin rather than community, but the classic Thanksgiving bill of fare, based on what was available in November in colonial New England, remained sacrosanct. Over the years the ideal of a home-prepared meal and informal family gathering has sent generations of women seeking the advice of experts from Catherine Beecher to Martha Stewart. Regional and ethnic variations were allowed, but the iconic turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin (or squash) pie consecrated all true Thanksgiving meals.

The first of ten national Thanksgivings was declared by the Continental Congress in 1777. After 1815, there were no further presidential proclamations despite annual editorial pleadings by Mrs. Hale in Godey's Magazine, but the popularity of the holiday grew apace. By the 1850s, Thanksgiving was celebrated in almost every state and territory, its national character assured. Abraham Lincoln declared two Thanksgivings in 1863, the second in November being the first of our modern national holidays, but it was not until 1941 after Roosevelt fiddled with the date with an eye to Christmas sales that Congress established the fourth Thursday as a legal holiday. Aside from packaged versions of traditional foods, expenses associated with holiday travel, and a moderate amount of decorative kitsch, the holiday also escaped the exploitive commercialism of other American holidays. Restaurants take advantage of the holiday to sell turkey dinners, and those dedicated purveyors of classic Thanksgiving fare, the armed services, do their best, but Thanksgiving retains its strongly domestic focus.

In light of their modern importance as the symbols of the holiday, it might be asked. "What about the Pilgrims?" The fact is that the famous description of the 1621 harvest festival in Mourt's Relation had been entirely forgotten before being rediscovered in 1822 and identified as the "First Thanksgiving" by Alexander Young in 1841. No one had associated the Plymouth colonists and Indian guests with the holiday before. However, in 1841 the event resembled contemporary Thanksgivings, even if it had not been so regarded by the original participants. The concept took time to catch on, as the Pilgrims had other symbolic burdens to bear, and Thanksgiving still implied family reunions, turkeys, and Yankee homesteads to most people. It wasn't until a fictional account appeared in the bestselling Standish of Standish (1889) that the Plymouth association gained widespread popularity, and only after World War II did the Pilgrims become the primary significators of the holiday.

See also American Indians ; Christianity ; Fasting and Abstinence ; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts ; Holidays ; Icon Foods ; Religion and Food ; United States: New England .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

[Abbott, Jacob.] New England and Her Institutions by One of Her Sons. Boston: John Allen, 1835.

Appelbaum, Diana. Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, An American History. New York: Facts on File, 1984.

Austin, Jane G. Standish of Standish. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1889.

Beecher, Catherine. Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt-Book. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1846.

DeLoss Love, William. Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1895.

Hale, Mrs. Sarah Josepha. Northwood; or, Life North and South, 2d ed. New York: Long, 1852.

Heath, Dwight B., ed. A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth (Mourt's Relation). New York: Corinth Books, 1963.

Hooker, Richard J. Food and Drink in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1981.

Howland, Mrs. E. A. The New England Economical Housekeeper. New London: Bolles and Williams, 1848.

Sickel, H. S. J. Thanksgiving: Its Source, Philosophy and History with All National Proclamations and Analytical Study Thereof. Philadelphia: International Printing, 1940.

Stow, Harriet Beecher. Oldtown Folks. Boston: Fields, Osgood, 1869.

Young, Alexander. Chronicles of the First Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Boston: Little, Brown, 1846.

James W. Baker Peggy M. Baker

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Thanksgiving Day

THANKSGIVING DAY

THANKSGIVING DAY. Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday imitated only by Canadians, was first established as an annual event by Abraham Lincoln in a proclamation dated 3 October 1863. Expressing hope amidst the continuing Civil War, it was a response to the campaign of Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book, to nationalize an autumn festival already observed by most of the states. Sporadic days of thanksgiving had been previously appointed by national leaders, such as those honoring military victories during the American Revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion, and the War of 1812 and one by George Washington to celebrate the new Constitution on 26 November 1789. The origin of the holiday is rooted in New England practices of prayer and feasting, most symbolically enacted by the three-day harvest celebration in 1621 between the Pilgrim settlers of Plymouth Colony and ninety Wampanoag, an event briefly mentioned in the histories written by Plymouth governors William Bradford and Edward Winslow.

This First Thanksgiving has been widely promoted since the late nineteenth century as a source of national origins. The types of public events during Thanksgiving have changed over time and have included church services, shooting matches, and—in nineteenth-century cities—military parades, masquerades, child begging, and charity banquets. Persisting public activities include games between football rivals (beginning in 1876) and spectacular commercially sponsored parades, such as the Macy's parade in New York City starting in 1924. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed the traditional observance from the last to the penultimate Thursday in 1939 (a year when November had five Thursdays) to extend the holiday shopping season. The controversy surrounding the alteration, however, led to a congressional resolution in 1941 that fixed the official holiday as the fourth Thursday in November. The heavy volume of travel over the four-day weekend originated in the nineteenth-century tradition of homecoming, when urban residents returned to celebrate their rural roots and feast on native foods such as turkey (which is such a central symbol that the holiday is sometimes called Turkey Day).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Appelbaum, Diana Karter. Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, An American History. New York: Facts On File, 1984.

Myers, Robert J. Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972.

Pleck, Elizabeth. "The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States." Journal of Social History 32 (1999): 773–789.

TimothyMarr

See alsoHolidays and Festivals .

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Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day, national holiday in the United States commemorating the Pilgrims' celebration of the harvest reaped by the Plymouth Colony in 1621, after a winter of great starvation and privation. The celebration was probably held in October. The neighboring Wampanoags, who outnumbered the colonists, joined them for three days and contributed food to the celebration. The first proclaimed day of thanksgiving in the colony was not held until 1623 (probably at the end of July), following an improvement in prospects for the still struggling colony, and was a day of prayer, not feasting.

After the American Revolution the first national Thanksgiving Day, proclaimed by President George Washington, was Nov. 26, 1789, and the Episcopal Church began celebrating an annual day of thanksgiving on the first Thursday in November. Some states established an annual Thanksgiving Day, but there was no annual national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln, urged by Sarah J. Hale, proclaimed one in 1863, appointing as the date the last Thursday of November. Although the only known contemporary account of the 1621 Plymouth harvest celebration had been rediscovered in 1841, the national Thanksgiving Day initially was not officially linked to it.

In 1939, 1940, and 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving the next-to-last Thursday in November. Conflicts arose between Roosevelt's proclamation and about half of those of state governors, and in 1941 Congress passed a joint resolution decreeing that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday of November. The day is observed by church services and family reunions; the customary turkey dinner is a reminder of the wildfowl served at the Pilgrims' celebration. Canadians also celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day, on the second Monday in October; prior to 1957 it was on the last Monday of the month.

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thanksgiving

thanks·giv·ing / ˌ[unvoicedth]angksˈgiving/ • n. 1. the expression of gratitude, esp. to God: he offered prayers in thanksgiving for his safe arrival | he described the service as a thanksgiving. 2. ( Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Day) (in North America) an annual national holiday marked by religious observances and a traditional meal including turkey. The holiday commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621, and is held in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday in November. A similar holiday is held in Canada, usually on the second Monday in October.

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thanksgiving

thanksgiving General Thanksgiving a form of thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer.
Thanksgiving Day (in North America) an annual national holiday marked by religious observances and a traditional meal including turkey. The holiday commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1621, and is held in the US on the fourth Thursday in November. A similar holiday is held in Canada, usually on the second Monday in October.

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Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day. A national holiday in the USA on the fourth Thursday of Nov., to give thanks for the blessings of the past year. It is traditionally derived from the settlers in Plymouth, Mass. who observed a day of thanksgiving for their first harvest in the autumn of 1621.

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Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day National holiday in the USA. Originating with the Pilgrims in 1621, who celebrated the first harvest of the Plymouth Colony, it was proclaimed an official holiday in 1863.

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thanksgiving

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