Though the Prince Regent of England declared a day of Thanksgiving in January 1816, Thanksgiving as an annual holiday is a new world phenomenon. In the United States, the tireless crusading of Sarah Hale led in 1863 to the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. The “Mother of Thanksgiving” was also the mother of five children, as well as an author and the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, a post she held for forty years until the age of eighty-nine.
The notion of a holiday to give thanks is rooted in both harvest celebrations and religious observances. The first settlers of New England were influenced by the traditions of British Puritans, who sought to purify society of the wild celebrations surrounding religious holidays like Christmas. (Recall Oliver Cromwell’s suppression of all Christmas celebrations.) While other settlers, like the Spanish in Florida, are said to have held a Thanksgiving feast, it’s easy to imagine their celebration as a one time occurrence, eclipsed by the regular observance of Christmas, Carnival, and Saints’ Days.
There are revisionist challenges to the notion that New England gave us the Thanksgiving holiday, but it was not generally celebrated in the southern states until after the Civil War. This 1810 Thanksgiving Ball was held in Canterbury, Connecticut.
And this 1816 Thanksgiving Ball was held in Bernardston, Massachusetts.
The Thanksgiving menu originated in New England also.
The menu has been updated with regional adaptations. Long before the celebrations of my childhood, sweet potatoes from the American South took the place of mashed turnips, and the green bean casserole was a mid-century addition that graced our Thanksgiving table every year. My mother always added a hearty pasta dish, lasagna or mostaccioli, to stretch the meal a little further for the multitudes of aunts, uncles, and cousins.
One of the things I love most about Thanksgiving is that it brings together members of our multi-faith family for a celebration that doesn’t step on any religious toes. Gratitude and thanksgiving and the acknowledgement of blessings belong in all religions and all proper ways of thinking.
I will be cooking a traditional turkey for my family this Thursday and counting my blessings. How about you? Do you have a non-traditional way to celebrate the day? And if you’re not in the U.S.A. or Canada, do you have any special days of Thanksgiving?
All Images: Wikimedia Commons