The evolution to modern day Thanksgiving

The history of Holidays has always been interesting to me, especially the evolution to the way a Holiday is celebrated currently. So, I decided to research the evolution from harvest festival to Thanksgiving.

Many Americans gather every year to have a nice meal with their family and give thanks to what is most important in their life, or something like that. My family doesn’t really do “thanks.” Either way, Thanksgiving is a long celebrated Holiday in America and I was curious where it all started.

image source: “Freedom of Want” by Norman Rockwell

Most of us probably know about the Pilgrim-Indian meal after Squanto showed sickly Pilgrims how to farm. However, many historians point out that this is more legend than fact. Truth is that historians aren’t really sure what happened on the “First Thanksgiving” and many Native Americans take offense to the widely taught version of the first Thanksgiving saying that it paints an all to sunny picture of relations between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people, in turn masking a long history between Europeans and Native Americans that caused the death of millions of people. So, because of the doubts of the history I’ll be focusing on how Thanksgiving evolved from when it was first declared a National Holiday.

Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a National Holiday in 1863 at the height of the Civil War. Previously, many people had already celebrated Thanksgiving. Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a Holiday so Americans could 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.” Lincoln scheduled Thanksgiving to be on the fourth Thursday of November. In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt had moved Thanksgiving up a week to the third Thursday, to try and boost retail sales during the Great Depression. However, this was met with great opposition and it was then moved, reluctantly, back to the fourth Thursday of November, in 1941.

The food traditionally served at Thanksgiving has changed from venison (deer) during the Pilgrim times, to turkey currently. This may have happened because of the abundance of deer during the 1600s. The change most notably happened in the 1800s. A book written by Sarah Josehpa Hale titled Northwood; A Tale of New England highlights the ideal Thanksgiving feast, including: turkey, beef, pork, mutton (sheep), pickles and preserves, vegetables, custards, cheese, cake and pies.

Some things have been added to the Thanksgiving tradition more recently, such as cranberry sauce, which appeared in 1912 after Cape Cod Cranberry Co. started to sell canned cranberry sauce. Green bean casserole has been added as well.

For more information about Thanksgiving, visit the following sites:

http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/lot-digest-how-thanksgiving-feast-has-evolved-over-150-years-2d11656681

 

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