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A Look Back: The History of Thanksgiving

Autumn Still Life 4; Shutterstock ID 162960662; Job: Core 2016; Client: Encyclopedia Britannica

Autumn Still Life 4; Shutterstock ID 162960662; Job: Core 2016; Client: Encyclopedia Britannica

Looking back to how and when do events get started and you will find that, yes, the Pilgrims did celebrate a harvest festival with the food that they raised and harvested.

It may not have been a turkey and all the fixings we know today, but in 1623, in Virginia, duck and goose could certainly have been on the menu, along with corn, squash, pumpkins and homemade bread. I have read where these celebrations could last up to three days!

The Continental-Confederation Congress issued several proclamations from 1774 to 1789, for “National Days of Prayers, Humiliation and Thanksgivings.”

On Oct. 3, 1789, George Washington made a proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America. He recommended and assigned the day of Thursday the 26th to be the day.

On Jan. 1, 1795, Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving Day to be observed on Thursday, Feb. 19. President John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1789 and 1799. President Thomas Jefferson was a deist and did not declare any Thanksgiving days during his presidency.

President James Madison renewed the tradition in 1814 in response to resolutions of Congress, at the close of the War of 1812. Madison declared the holiday twice in 1815, but neither date was celebrated in 1816. An annual Thanksgiving Day was appointed by the Governor of New York in 1817. By 1858, proclamations appointing a day of Thanksgiving were issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories.

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln ordered government departments closed for the local day of Thanksgiving. At that time, each state had its own scheduled day they celebrated a day of Thanksgiving. In October of 1863, Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November be “a day of Thanksgiving” — this was during the two years of the war which there did not seem to be an end and the death of his 11-year-old son Willie.

The first national holiday was kind of a lackluster, but by 1864, the idea had begun to catch on. It was during 1864 that 400,000 pounds of ham and turkey with all the trimmings were delivered along with fruits and cakes to the troops.

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt broke the tradition of Thanksgiving being on the last Thursday of the month. That year, November had five Thursdays, and Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday to be when Thanksgiving would be celebrated. With the country at that time in the midst of Depression still, Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give the merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas.

On Oct. 6, 1941, both houses of the US Congress passed a joint resolution, thus fixing the traditional last Thursday for the holiday. But, in the same year, the Senate passed an amendment to the resolution and now Thanksgiving will be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November. On Dec. 26, 1941, Roosevelt signed a bill and for the first time, Thanksgiving was now a federal holiday.

Since 1924, Macy’s has been having the Thanksgiving Day parade in Manhattan. The oldest parade that is recorded is from Philadelphia which was launched in 1920. Both parades include marching bands, guest speakers and announcers and, of course, the large balloon characters. 

And of course, you have all the sports on that day, from football to pumpkin chunking contest to turkey trot runs, all are featured on this day. The day after Thanksgiving is also known as Black Friday and officially starts the Christmas shopping season. 

On Thanksgiving will your table have the traditional turkey, ham or venison? Will it be slowed cooked or deep-fried? I am sure you will have mashed potatoes with gravy, or maybe sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, green beans casserole and desserts. Oh my, can you hear the table groaning!?

As you surround your table with family and friends, remember to give thanks for this day and every day for all you have. I for one am thankful to all the readers that read these articles and let me know how much they enjoy reading them. Some of my readers have given me ideas of what they would like to read about, which I am so thankful for all of the suggestions. I am thankful for the books and records of those from the past left me to research all of the articles.

We are open here at the Lucy Bensley Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If the schools are closed due to snow, then we are too. You can call us to check at (716) 592-0094 or send us an email at lucybensleycenter@ gmail.com. We will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23 and 30 for Very Merry Springville. Stop by and see us, and have a cup of wassail to cheer on the shopping season for Christmas!

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