Back In Time: Thanksgiving | Alyssa J Cori: Back In Time: Thanksgiving

November 21, 2018

Back In Time: Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm sure in history class you learned all about the first Thanksgiving celebration, with pilgrims and Indians coming together to celebrate. Well, today we're going to take a look at the less talked about elements of the history of Thanksgiving. Get excited for another back in time post.
Click to read now or pin to save for later! Here are some interesting stories about the history of Thanksgiving, from revolutionary time to present day

Washington, Adams, and Jefferson (because they're always involved)

First off, I want to say that I did not start off my research with any intention of talking about Thomas Jefferson, especially in a negative light. What can I say, he just keeps following me no matter what I try to do. So anyway, Thanksgiving began to be celebrated under that name when George Washington proclaimed the holiday at the request of congress.

In fact, it was lead by a congressman from Jersey (let's hear it for Jersey!), Elias Boudinot. Washington ended up appointing Boudinot as Director of the Mint, so you know they must have gotten on well. John Adams kept up Thanksgiving, naturally, but then Jefferson decided he'd rather (it's a whole God thing, so we're not going to get into it). Things didn't get back on track until Abraham Lincoln said enough of this back and forth, I'm making it a federal holiday in 1861.


There were a few factors that went into Lincoln deciding to make Thanksgiving a holiday on the last Thursday in November. One was a very persistent woman named Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74 year old magazine editor. She'd been on a crusade for the past 15 years for there to be a national Thanksgiving, rather than each state deciding on their own day celebrate, and not all states participating (New England was into it, other states not so much).

Another reason was the fact that we were in the midst of a civil war and some positive feelings were definitely needed. In his public address, Lincoln tells the American people how remarkable it is that despite war they have pulled together to grow production across industries and to increase population (even with those lost in battle). And that none of this was possible without the benevolence of God.


After Lincoln, things were going super well for Thanksgiving. People hosted raffles the night before to give away turkeys, and had shooting matches the day of with turkeys and chickens as targets. Good, clean American fun. But then FDR had an idea (well, most likely Fred Lazarus, Jr. had an idea and convinced FDR. Lazarus was the founder of what would become Macy's - you'll see why this makes sense in a second).

In 1939 there were 5 Thursdays in November, so he came up with a plan to celebrate on the 4th Thursday because he wanted to give merchants an extra week to sell Christmas gifts (at the time it was considered inappropriate to advertise for Christmas before Thanksgiving. Can you imagine that?). You'll remember that it was the Great Depression, and we really can't blame the guy for wanting to put some more fire into the economy.

Well, Republicans flipped their lids and said it was an affront to Lincoln's memory. People celebrated "Republican Thanksgiving" on the last Thursday and "Democratic Thanksgiving"on the 4th Thursday. There was mass confusion (the poor football teams planned to play their last game on Thanksgiving, so they weren't about to change their schedules) and 23 states went with FDR, while 22 states did not. Texas had a crisis and just decided to celebrate both days as government holidays.

All things turkey

I wasn't really sure how to integrate these last two points. We're just calling it the turkey section.

First, since 1947 the National Turkey Federation has presented the president with a turkey, who he pardons. The turkey is then sent off to live the rest of his days in some nice place. That nice place was Disney World or Disneyland from 2005 to 2009. Not too bad for a turkey.

Second, and arguably my favorite, Butterball has a "Turkey Talk Line" where you can call in to get advice on any of your turkey needs. The line started in 1981 with the delightful group pictured below, and has continued to this day. There have been modern advancements, such as live chat and integration with Alexa, and the spirit of helpfulness remains the same.

There you have it, some of my favorite Thanksgiving history and facts!

What will you be doing to celebrate?


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