What You Didn’t Know About Thanksgiving

cornucopia03It took more than 200 years after the first Thanksgiving before it became an official holiday.

The first Thanksgiving was a three day feast, which included hunting, athletic games, and eating. The Pilgrims dined on venison, NOT turkey. There was also NO pumpkin pie or sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows or cranberry sauce.

“According to historian George Willison, who devoted his life to the subject, the story about the rock is all malarkey, a public relations stunt pulled off by townsfolk to attract attention. What Willison found out is that the Plymouth Rock legend rests entirely on the dubious testimony of Thomas Faunce, a ninety-five year old man, who told the story more than a century after the Mayflower landed. Unfortunately, not too many people ever heard how we came by the story of Plymouth Rock. Willison’s book came out at the end of World War II and Americans had more on their minds than Pilgrims then. So we’ve all just gone merrily along repeating the same old story as if it’s true when it’s not. And anyway, the Pilgrims didn’t land in Plymouth first. They first made landfall at Provincetown. Of course, the people of Plymouth stick by hoary tradition. Tour guides insist that Plymouth Rock is THE rock.”

Some other places claim the first Thanksgiving. History News Network gives us The Top Ten Myths about Thanksgiving.

“To see what the first Thanksgiving was like you have to go to: Texas. Texans claim the first Thanksgiving in America actually took place in little San Elizario, a community near El Paso, in 1598 — twenty-three years before the Pilgrims’ festival. For several years they have staged a reenactment of the event that culminated in the Thanksgiving celebration: the arrival of Spanish explorer Juan de Onate on the banks of the Rio Grande. De Onate is said to have held a big Thanksgiving festival after leading hundreds of settlers on a grueling 350-mile long trek across the Mexican desert.

“Then again, you may want to go to Virginia.. At the Berkeley Plantation on the James River they claim the first Thanksgiving in America was held there on December 4th, 1619….two years before the Pilgrims’ festival….and every year since 1958 they have reenacted the event. In their view it’s not the Mayflower we should remember, it’s the Margaret, the little ship which brought 38 English settlers to the plantation in 1619. The story is that the settlers had been ordered by the London company that sponsored them to commemorate the ship’s arrival with an annual day of Thanksgiving. Hardly anybody outside Virginia has ever heard of this Thanksgiving, but in 1963 President Kennedy officially recognized the plantation’s claim.”

In 1789, George Washington announced the first NATIONAL Thanksgiving holiday, but Thanksgiving did not become an annual tradition until the 19th Century. The Americans celebrated on Thursday, November 26, 1789.

As the first Thanksgiving (1622) was to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest, the celebration was not repeated.

first-thanksgiving

A depiction of the Thanksgiving meal in Plymouth in 1621. JLG Ferris c. 1912. http://www.forbes.com

American writer, Sarah Josepha Hale, was inspired by A Diary of Pilgrim Life. In 1827, Hale began a 30 year campaign to make to make Thanksgiving a national tradition. At her own expense, Hale published recipes for pumpkin pie, stuffing, turkey, etc. (By the way, Hale is the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”)

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

“So how did we get the idea that you have turkey and cranberry and such on Thanksgiving? It was because the Victorians prepared Thanksgiving that way. And they’re the ones who made Thanksgiving a national holiday, beginning in 1863, when Abe Lincoln issued his presidential Thanksgiving proclamations…two of them: one to celebrate Thanksgiving in August, a second one in November. Before Lincoln Americans outside New England did not usually celebrate the holiday. (The Pilgrims, incidentally, didn’t become part of the holiday until late in the nineteenth century. Until then, Thanksgiving was simply a day of thanks, not a day to remember the Pilgrims.)”

In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt moved the holiday to the 3rd Thursday in November to give retailers an extra week to make money during the holiday buying season. It was the Depression, after all.

Ironically, in 1941, FDR signed a bill to keep Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday of November.

turkey03In 1989, George H. W. Bush gave the first official turkey pardon.

These facts and lots more about Thanksgiving can be found at History.com and at History News Network

 

This work is released under CC-BY-SA

 

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in American History, British history, Church of England, customs and tradiitons, history, holidays, real life tales, religion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What You Didn’t Know About Thanksgiving

  1. It’s always nice to know where our holidays come from and why they are certain dates. I need to visit History.com more often! Happy Thanksgiving, Regina.

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