This Thursday is Thanksgiving. Because I post on the fourth Monday of every month, and because we at Writers Who Kill change our schedules from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day, 2020 is one of the very rare years when I post the week of Thanksgiving. Usually, the fourth Monday in November happens after Thanksgiving. Wherever you are, here in the United States or overseas either with our armed forces or as an expatriate, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving in spite of COVID.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays; it is a time to breathe before I am pushed into the Christmas season, relax with my family and, most importantly, thank God for the many, many blessings in my life. It’s hard to imagine a year without a Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving hasn’t always been a national holiday. Curious, I decided to look into its history. NOT the history of the first Thanksgiving; I love that story too much to clutter it with inconvenient historical facts (although I know my share of them). I prefer to leave my mental image of the grateful Pilgrims with the helpful Indians intact. Instead, I looked up how Thanksgiving came to be the beloved national holiday it is today.
During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress declared one or more national days of official Thanksgiving, as did George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison as presidents. In 1817, New York became the first state to adopt an official day for a yearly Thanksgiving holiday. Several other states followed suit, but in keeping with the unanimity we expect from the separate 50 states, each state selected a different day. In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale began campaigning to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. As the editor of first The Ladies Magazine and then Godey’s Ladies’ Book until the age of almost 90 (she retired in 1877), she had, as Teddy Roosevelt would have said, a bully pulpit from which to lobby. (Ms. Hale was also the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”)
After 36 years of hard campaigning, which included editorials and dozens of letters to governors, presidents, congressmen, and senators, she achieved her goal when in 1863 Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday in November as the national holiday of Thanksgiving. In his proclamation, made in the second year of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln asked Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”
The first Thanksgiving Day parade was held in Philadelphia in 1920; the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924, along with America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit. In 1934, the Detroit Lions hosted the first of their annual Thanksgiving Day games, a tradition that continues even today. The only years since then that the Detroit Lions haven’t played a Thanksgiving game were in 1939 through 1944 during World War II. They’re even playing this year, in spite of COVID-19, although the fans won’t be able to attend in person. The Dallas Cowboys began their annual Thanksgiving Day game in 1966. Then, in 2006, the NFL added a third game to the schedule, completing the slate of Thanksgiving Day football games as we know it today.
Thanksgiving continued to be held every year on the last Thursday of November until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the middle of the Depression, attempted to move it up to the third Thursday in November in an effort to increase holiday retail sales. This change was incredibly unpopular (some critics called it “Franksgiving”) and in 1941 he reluctantly signed a bill from Congress establishing Thanksgiving as occurring on the fourth Thursday of November, where it remains today.
Because Thanksgiving has been a national holiday since the Civil War, most families now follow their own special traditions. My husband, daughter, and I travel somewhere in our camper, just the three of us, for Thanksgiving weekend. Usually, we go to the Gatlinburg area. If we can, Kayla and I watch at least part of the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade together, because I know my Mom and sisters are doing the same wherever they are. It gives us a sense of closeness even though we are apart. What are your family traditions?