Turkey Day: A Day of Thanksgiving, A Celebration of Family


THPP_004 Most everyone, I am sure, know that this Thursday represents a day set aside for family gathering and feasting upon the traditional bird called turkey – a day traditional set aside to give thanks for the current year’s favorable occurrences, a day we refer to as Thanksgiving Day, an American tradition. It is also a time to watch the yearly Thanksgiving Day Parade that occurs in Times Square, New York City, New York and the official entry into the Christmas holiday season with the Santa float bringing up the rear in the Macy-sponsored traditional parade, of which was immortalized in the Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood film Miracle on 34th Street based on the age-old argument – Is there really a Santa Claus?
The modern Thanksgiving Day includes watching the Thanksgiving Classic football game that has become part of American tradition.

Thanksgiving Day, Wikipedia entry:

Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a traditional North American holiday to give thanks at the conclusion of the harvest season. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States and on the second Monday of October in Canada.

That is the North American (Canada) entry in Wikipedia, which also publishes a specific explanation for the United States of America:

THTK_104 In the United States, Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day is an annual one-day holiday to give thanks for the things one has at the end of harvest season. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday; the period from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day is often collectively referred to as the “holiday season”, and the holiday itself is often nicknamed Turkey Day.
The city of
El Paso, Texas claims the first thanksgiving was held in what is now known as the United States, but it was not a harvest celebration. Spaniard Don Juan de Oñate ordered his expedition party to rest and conducted a mass celebration of thanksgiving on April 30, 1598.

While the above may be historically true in respect to historical tidbits of information, the celebration also originated in the British thirteen colonies, specifically in the Virginia Colony on December 4th, 1598 –

THSC_024 …near the current site of Berkeley Plantation, where celebrations are still held each year in November. Captain John Woodleif addressed the 38 men with: “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
The Pilgrims were particularly thankful to Squanto, the Native American who taught them to catch eel and grow corn and who served as interpreter for them (Squanto had learned English as a slave in
Europe and travels in England). … The explorers who later came to be called the “Pilgrims” set apart a day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance; harvest festivals were existing parts of English and Wampanoag tradition alike. Several American colonists have personal accounts of the 1621 feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts:
William Bradford, in Of Plymouth Plantation:
“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their house and dwelling against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in
England, which were not feigned by true reports.”
Edward Winslow, in Mourt’s Relation:

THSC_084 “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
The Pilgrims did not hold a true Thanksgiving until 1623, when it followed a drought, prayers for rain, and a subsequent rain shower. … In the Plymouth tradition, a thanksgiving day was a church observance, rather than a feast day. Gradually, an annual Thanksgiving after the harvest developed in the mid-17th century. This did not occur on any set day or necessarily on the same day in different colonies in America.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony (consisting mainly of Puritan Christians) celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time in 1630, and frequently thereafter until about 1680, when it became an annual festival in that colony; and Connecticut as early as 1639 and annually after 1647, except in 1675. The Dutch in New Netherland appointed a day for giving thanks in 1644 and occasionally thereafter. Charlestown, Massachusetts held the first recorded Thanksgiving observance June 29, 1671 by proclamation of the town’s governing council.

During the 18th century individual colonies observed days of thanksgiving throughout each year. We might not recognize a traditional Thanksgiving Day from that period, as it was not a day marked by plentiful food and drink as is today’s custom, but rather a day set aside for prayer and fasting.
Later in the 1700’s individual colonies would periodically designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop. Such a Thanksgiving Day celebration was held in December of 1777 by the colonies nationwide, commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at
Saratoga.

… As President, on October 3rd 1789, George Washington state the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.”
George Washington again proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795. President John Adams declared Thanksgiving in 1798 and 1799. No Thanksgiving proclamations were issued by Thomas Jefferson but James Madison renewed the tradition in 1814, in response to resolutions of Congress, at the close of the War of 1812. Madison also declared the holiday twice in 1815; however, none of these was celebrated in autumn.

… In some of the Southern states there was opposition to the observance of such a day on the ground that it was a relic of Puritanic bigotry, but by 1858 proclamations appointing a day of thanksgiving were issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories.

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 … Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States.
… Some of the details of the American Thanksgiving story are myths that developed in the 1890s and early 1900s …
…The tradition of giving thanks to God is continued today in various forms. … In celebrations at home, it is a holiday tradition in many families to begin the Thanksgiving dinner by saying grace. Found in diverse religious traditions, grace is a prayer before or after a meal to express appreciation to God, to ask for God’s blessing, or in some philosophies, to express an altruistic wish or dedication.

…the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is held annually every Thanksgiving Day from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. The parade features parade floats with specific themes, scenes from Broadway plays, large balloons of cartoon characters and TV personalities, and high school marching bands. The float that traditionally ends the Macy’s Parade is the Santa Claus float. This float is a sign that the Christmas season has begun. …

The American winter holiday season (generally the Christmas shopping season in the U.S.) traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving, known as “Black Friday”, although most stores actually start to stock for and promote the December holidays immediately after Halloween, and sometimes even before. Opponents of consumerism in some places protest this behavior by declaring the day after Thanksgiving Buy Nothing Day.
American football is often a major part of Thanksgiving celebrations in the U.S. Professional games are traditionally played on Thanksgiving Day; until recently, these were the only games played during the week apart from Sunday or Monday night. The tradition is referred to as the Thanksgiving Classic.

The traditional story of the Mayflower is often related on Thanksgiving Day on special programming on that Thursday or the week thereof. History.com features the Untold Story of the Mayflower as well as offering the DVD History Channel special film The History of Thanksgiving.
The Plymouth Thanksgiving Story can be purchased at the 20/20 tech website, as well as links to other sources of information to include recipes.
Columnists usually provide commentary each Thanksgiving Day week:
Please Pass the Turkey and Dressing by Jackie Gingrich Cushman
And So We Give Thanks by Bill Murchison