DID YOU KNOW . . . Thanksgiving

Today in the United States – November 22, 2012 – is the holiday of Thanksgiving. Together with Christmas, Hanukah and New Year’s, it is today considered the beginning of the broader “holiday season.”

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated in the Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay colony in 1621 to give thanks to God for guiding them safely to the New World. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, providing enough food for 13 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

The feast itself consisted of fish (cod, eels, and bass) and shellfish (clams, lobster, and mussels), wild fowl (ducks, geese, swans, and, yes, turkey), venison, berries and fruit, vegetables (peas, pumpkin, beetroot and possibly, wild or cultivated onion), harvest grains (barley and wheat), and a dish called the “Three Sisters”: beans, dried Indian maize or corn, and squash. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.

The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777 and the custom was regularly continued in most states. 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.

Lincoln’s successors followed his example of annually declaring the final Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving, until 1939 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt broke with this tradition. November had five Thursdays that year (instead of the usual four), and Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday to be Thanksgiving rather than the fifth one.

Although many popular histories state otherwise, Roosevelt made it clear that his plan was to establish the holiday on the next-to-last Thursday of the month instead of the last one. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. At the time, advertising goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate.

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