Thanksgiving holiday’s history varied, but meaning holds true
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It combines almost everything I enjoy including family gatherings, good food and great sporting events on television. It is a holiday with a long and interesting history that has changed over the years.
One of the most prevalent complaints I hear is that Thanksgiving has become nothing but the start of the Christmas shopping season and the true meaning has been forgotten. I never understood why they call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday.” That term has a connotation that something bad is happening, which might be true if you hate shopping. Certainly that has all changed with stores starting their Christmas promotions earlier each year. I guess you could call it a “Black Friday” if you over spent your budget and face a January financial meltdown when credit card bills arrive.
Actually the commercialization of Thanksgiving is nothing new. In 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt moved the date of Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November. The idea was to boost retail sales during the later years of the Depression. That date change backfired on FDR and there was a huge, angry public outcry. In 1941, he signed legislation officially designating the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.
According to what I’ve read the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians probably held the first Thanksgiving in December 1621. For the Pilgrims it was a time to give thanks for surviving a brutal, and for many fatal, winter. The idea of sports started with the first Thanksgiving as there was competition in a variety of foot races and contests.
There is some controversy about whether that was actually the first “Thanksgiving” celebration.
Some historians say the first period of thanksgiving was observed by early English settlers in 1565. The idea of a day to give thanks dates back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.
President George Washington declared the first national day of Thanksgiving in 1789. After that some states had special observances however New York was the first state to officially set a day of Thanksgiving in 1817.
The dogged determination of a writer – Sarah Josepha Hale – is probably the reason we have the national holiday. She wrote many articles urging action by U. S. presidents to officially proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving. Her pleas fell on deaf ears until the bloody Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln declared a “national day of thanks” in November 1863. Most states had a Thanksgiving observance but it did not become a federal holiday until the 20th century.
Reading the old issues of The Chieftain, Thanksgiving Day sporting events were popular a century ago with high school teams or local semi-pro teams having games. Probably my favorite was a girls’ basketball game between Bonner Springs and Basehor played on an outdoor court. The score wasn’t reported the next week and I can only hope they had nice weather.
While family gatherings, food and football are fun, they are not the reason for the holiday. It is a time for each of us to pause a moment and give thanks for what we have. We live in a wonderful time in history. We have more conveniences than at any other time in history.
But beyond that I give thanks for my wonderful family and life. I am thankful for people who pause to hold the door open for an old guy who walks with a cane. Yes, it’s a small act of kindness, but those small acts add up to make it a wonderful world. Have a joyous Thanksgiving and remember the real reason for the holiday.