Thanksgiving - November 28, 2013
Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day is an annual one-day holiday to gratitude|give thanks (traditionally to God) at the close of the harvest season. In the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. In Canada, it is celebrated on the second Monday in October. In the United Kingdom, Thanksgiving is another name for the Harvest festival, held in churches across the land on a relevant Sunday to mark the end of the local harvest. This tradition was taken to North America by early settlers.
Thanksgiving in North America
Thanksgiving in the United States
The Pilgrims set apart a day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance; harvest festivals were existing parts of English and Wampanoag tradition alike.
Several American colonists have personal accounts of the 1621 feast in Massachusetts:
William Bradford (1590-1657)|William Bradford, in ''Of Plymouth Plantation:
"They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their house and dwelling against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned by true reports."
Edward Winslow, in ''Mourt's Relation'':
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
The mention of ninety men in the Winslow account is of interest, as the Native People present would have outnumbered the 50 surviving English at that point. The two preceding passages are the only records of the event, but historians presume that both groups were exposed to unfamiliar forms of celebration.
The Pilgrims did not hold a true Thanksgiving until 1623, when it followed a drought, prayers for rain, and a subsequent rain shower. Irregular Thanksgivings continued after favorable events and days of fasting after unfavorable ones. In the Plymouth tradition, a thanksgiving day was a church observance, rather than a feast day.
Gradually, an annual Thanksgiving after the harvest developed in the mid-17th century. This did not occur on any set day or necessarily on the same day in different colonies in America.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time in 1630, and frequently thereafter until about 1680, when it became an annual festival in that colony; and Connecticut as early as 1639 and annually after 1647, except in 1675. The Dutch in New Netherland appointed a day for giving thanks in 1644 and occasionally thereafter.
The Revolutionary War to Nationhood
During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress appointed one or more thanksgiving days each year, except in 1777, each time recommending to the executives of the various states the observance of these days in their states.
George Washington, leader of the revolutionary forces in the American Revolutionary War, proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Battle of Saratoga|Saratoga. The Continental Congress proclaimed annual December Thanksgivings from 1777 to 1783, except in 1782.
George Washington again proclaimed Thanksgivings, as President of the United States|President, in 1789 and 1795. President John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. President Madison, in response to resolutions of Congress, set apart a day for thanksgiving at the close of the War of 1812. Madison declared the holiday twice in 1815; however, none of these were celebrated in autumn.
A thanksgiving day was annually appointed by the governor of New York from 1817. In some of the Southern states there was opposition to the observance of such a day on the ground that it was a relic of Puritanic bigotry, but by 1858 proclamations appointing a day of thanksgiving were issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories.
Lincoln and the Civil War
In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863:
"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth."
''Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln'', 3 October, 1863.
Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States.
F.D. Roosevelt to present
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be the next-to-last Thursday of November rather than the last. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought this would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would aid bringing the country out of the Depression. At the time, it was considered inappropriate to advertise goods for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. However, Roosevelt's declaration was not mandatory; twenty-three states went along with this recommendation, and 22 did not. Other states, like Texas, could not decide and took both weeks as government holidays. Roosevelt persisted in 1940 to celebrate his "Franksgiving," as it was termed. The Congress of the United States|U.S. Congress in 1941 split the difference and established that the Thanksgiving would occur annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes the next to last. On November 26 that year President Roosevelt signed this bill into U.S. law.
Since 1947, or possibly earlier, the National Turkey Federation has presented the President of the United States with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys. The live turkey is pardoned and lives out the rest of its days on a peaceful farm. While it is commonly held that this tradition began with Harry Truman in 1947, the Truman Library has been unable to find any evidence for this. Still others claim that that the tradition dates back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. Both stories have been quoted in more recent presidential speeches.
In more recent years, two turkeys have been pardoned, in case the original turkey becomes unavailable for presidential pardoning. Since 2003 the public has been invited to vote for the two turkeys' names. In 2005, they were named Marshmallow and Yam (who went on to live at Disneyland); 2004's turkeys were named Biscuit and Gravy; in 2003, Stars and Stripes.
Since 1970, a group of Native Americans in the United States|Native Americans and others have held a controversial National Day of Mourning protest on Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Thanksgiving in Canada
In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. The United States later set aside the same day as the federal holiday of Columbus Day. Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest. The roots of the Canadian holiday are different than those of the United States of America.
The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Canada. In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This is considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving, and the first Thanksgiving to have taken place in North America. Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies. Frobisher was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him - Frobisher Bay.
At the same time, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, also held huge feasts of thanks. They even formed 'The Order of Good Cheer' and gladly shared their food with their Native-Canadian neighbours.
After the Seven Years' War ended in 1763 handing over New France to the British, the citizens of Halifax, Nova Scotia (former city)|Halifax held a special day of Thanksgiving.
After the American Revolution, American refugees who remained loyal (United Empire Loyalists) to Kingdom of Great Britain were exiled from the United States and came to Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada, although as a liturgical festival Thanksgiving in Canada also corresponds to the English and continental European Harvest Festival, with churches decorated with cornucopias, pumpkins, corn, wheat sheaves and other harvest bounty, English and European harvest hymns sung on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend and scriptural lections drawn from the biblical stories relating to the Jewish harvest festival of Succoth.
Eventually in 1879, the Canadian Parliament declared November 6th a day of Thanksgiving and a national holiday in Canada. Over the years many dates were used for Thanksgiving, the most popular being the third Monday in October. After World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the Monday of the week in which November 11th occurred. Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays, and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day.
Finally, on January 31st, 1957, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed... :"A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed ... to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October."
The first Thanksgiving Day in Canada after Confederation was observed as a civic holiday on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII of the United Kingdom) from a serious illness. Before then, thanksgiving days were observed beginning in 1799 but did not occur every year. Starting in 1879 Thanksgiving Day was observed every year but the date was proclaimed annually and changed year to year. The theme of the Thanksgiving holiday also changed year to year to reflect an important event to be thankful for. In the early years it was for an abundant harvest and occasionally for a special anniversary. After the First World War it was for Armistice Day, while more recently and including today it has been a day of general thanksgiving.
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