Although recognition of a “Thanksgiving Day” in America dates back to 1621, or even back to 1565 say some historians, it really wasn’t established as a fixed national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln made it so in 1863. At the suggestion of 74-year-old activist, writer, and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, President Lincoln recognized what had become an annual event and adopted as a “National and fixed Union Festival.” Her impassioned plea to President Lincoln included this call to action, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”
It appears that Lincoln was moved by Ms. Hale’s remarks, and on October 3, 1863 he issued these remarks:
“In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved… The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies… No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Highest God…
It has seemed to me fit and proper that these gifts should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people; I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and a Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Thus, observance of Thanksgiving was forever embedded into the country’s regular holiday calendar. Earlier presidents had proclaimed Thanksgiving holidays, but only Lincoln took the step of designating it for permanent recognition.
So, now you know. And here are some other little tidbits we’ve gathered to broaden your knowledge of some of the more obscure gems about Thanksgiving:
- The First Thanksgiving Dinner…exactly where did it occur? Good question! Many folks believe it took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts Colony in 1621. But wait! Some historians argue that St. Augustine, Florida was the birthplace of the annual event in 1565, involving Spanish settlers sharing a celebratory meal with the native Timucuan people following St. Augustine’s settlement. Who knows…I can only tell you for sure that MY first Thanksgiving was celebrated in Reading, Pennsylvania…at least, that’s what my mother told me!
- Who started the tradition of pardoning a turkey at Thanksgiving? Some folks remember John F. Kennedy sparing the life of a turkey in 1963, but that was evidently a one-off pardon. It wasn’t until 1989 that the practice of an official presidential pardon hit the books. That is attibuted to George H. W. Bush.
- Cranberries are a Thanksgiving Dinner standard, but did you know that this deliacacy is also know as the “bounceberry?” They’re called that because cranberry farmers are known for sorting them by bouncing the berries against barriers made of slanted boards.
- Also, nobody really knows when the turkey became the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving dinner…there’s no record of the First Thanksgiving Dinner actually serving turkey.
- By the way, the State of North Carolina produces the most turkeys each year, although Wisconsin produces the most cranberries (sorry, bounceberries).
- The average Thanksgiving dinner sports a whipping 3,000 calories, exclusive of dessert and drinks. So, perhaps the making of a wish on the “wishbone”–also technically known as the fercula–might be a wish to shed the pounds quickly!
- The Christmas song “Jingle Bells” was originally titled “The One Horse Open Sleigh” and was intended to be a Thanksgiving song.
OK, enough trivia. We wish you a safe and relaxing Thanksgiving Holiday, and we hope that you will take the opportunity to truly give thanks for all that you have.