Our celebration of Thanksgiving owes more to our Presidents than it does to the Pilgrims.
By now we know that what the menu for the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621 differs from what is found on most of our tables today. The first Thanksgiving, celebrated among the Puritan Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe would’ve featured venison, shellfish, corn, and other roasted meats. These would’ve been cooked using Native American spices and cooking methods. The meal most likely did not have any desserts or other sweets as the Pilgrim’s exhausted their provisions over the previous winter. Although, cranberries were probably present at both the first Thanksgiving and on our tables today. The Pilgrims held a second Thanksgiving in 1623 after a long drought ended that threatened that year’s crops. Days of fasting and thanksgiving became common features of many New England settlements.
The first national proclamation of a day of thanksgiving issued by the Federal Government came in 1789. George Washington called the day to celebrate the end of the American Revolution and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. John Adams and James Madison also proclaimed days of thanksgiving during their administrations. Thomas Jefferson, our third president, felt it was not appropriate to issue proclamations for days of Thanksgiving, because of the separation of church and state. By 1817 New York became the first of several states to declare an annual day of Thanksgiving, celebrated on different days. As with many of our holidays the celebrations began as regional or state affairs, only becoming nationally recognized later on.
In 1827 Sarah Joseph Hale, author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” began a 36 year campaignto establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday, expanding the holiday from its traditional home in New England throughout the rest of the country. During that time she sent dozens of letters to politicians, senators, representatives, leaders, and government officials urging them to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
Finally, at the height of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln scheduled Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. In a speech written by Secretary of State William Seward, President Lincoln declared that the fourth Thursday in November would be an official U.S. holiday, Thanksgiving Day. Lincoln also used this opportunity to thank God for recent Union victories in the American Civil War. This marked the first time since 1815 that an American president had declared a day of thanksgiving.
Annually, Presidents issued Proclamations of Thanksgiving which made the last Thursday of November Thanksgiving Day. This tradition held until 1939. That year the last Thursday in November did not occur until the 30th, leaving less than a month until Christmas. Several retailers approached the President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and urged him to move Thanksgiving up by a week to allow for a longer shopping period. It was hoped that consumers, who shopped after Thanksgiving, would buy more for the Christmas holiday.
This decision caused a great deal of confusion and anger. FDR’s opponents questioned his disregard for tradition by moving Thanksgiving to another date. The mayor of Atlantic City pejoratively called the new date “Franksgiving.” Aside from irritating his opponents the effect of transferring Thanksgiving had a very real impact.
Schools that had vacations and tests set had to revise their schedules. Then, as now, Thanksgiving was a big day for football games. Many teams needed to examine and revise their schedules. To make matters worse many of the country’s governors did not agree with Roosevelt’s decision to change the date of Thanksgiving. Twenty-three state governors decided to follow Roosevelt’s lead and moved Thanksgiving to November 23. Twenty-three other disagreed and chose to keep Thanksgiving Day on its traditional date of November 30. The governors of Texas and Colorado decided to recognize both days as Thanksgiving Day. These decisions by the state governors split families whose members lived in different states and could not get together to celebrate the holiday due to having different days off.
In 1940 FDR moved Thanksgiving Day again up by one week. Thirty-one states followed suit while 17 continued to follow the traditional date. In 1941, many people anticipated the new date and celebrated Thanksgiving Day on November 20. In October 1941, the House of Representatives passed a joint resolution making the last Thursday in November a legal, national holiday. The Senate agreed, however they amended the resolution to make the fourth Thursday in November a legal holiday, which takes into account years where November has five Thursdays. President Roosevelt agreed and signed the resolution into law on December 26, 1941. Since then Thanksgiving has always been observed on the fourth Thursday in November.
The library has many good cookbooks to help you find that perfect recipe to make your family meal extra special.
Martha's Classic Thanksgiving (DVD)
The Thanksgiving Table: Recipes and Ideas to Create your Own Holiday Tradition
Their are many great websites out there that feature traditional Thanksgiving recipes, or if you want to try something different, new twists on the originals or something new and exciting. Check out these following websites:
Better Homes & Gardens Thanksgiving Dinner Menus
Thanksgiving Dinner Menu Ideas and Recipes
Thanksgiving Menus & Recipes from the Food Network
Thanksgiving Menus for Beginners to Experts from allrecipes.com or their other page for more Thanksgiving Recipes