It's almost time for pumpkin pie, stuffing and some well-deserved relaxation (unless you’re cooking for a houseful or having relatives that are a handful).
And while any day is a good day to be grateful, this is our day to officially step back and give thanks.
But it wasn’t always.
So let’s take a peek into history -- how did the observance of the American Thanksgiving holiday start?
Thanksgiving is most often traced back to 1621 when the inhabitants of Plymouth Plantation celebrated a harvest feast after their first successful growing season.
The Pilgrims, or Separatists (Pilgrims held similar religious beliefs to the Puritans but insisted that their congregations be independent of the English state church) had good reason to be thankful. They had left England to escape religious persecution and after enduring the long, perilous voyage to the New World, disease and the harsh New England winter took it’s toll on about half the group.
They were short of supplies; total collapse of the colony the first winter was prevented by Chief Massasoit of the Wanpanoag tribe, who gave them much needed provisions. (One way to get Pilgrims to invite you to dinner! )
Reports say that the Wanpanoags invited to the feast brought deer with them.
So that’s the first recorded harvest feast of Thanksgiving and the first good guests.
Despite being a great idea, it didn’t become a wide spread holiday. There were feasts of thanks after good harvests or events, but it wasn't until later that all 13 colonies celebrated a day of Thanksgiving. In 1789, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26 to be "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer," to give thanks for the opportunity to form a new nation and the establishment of a new constitution.
Thanksgiving finally became an annual holiday due to the efforts of a woman author named Sarah Josepha Hale (known for writing “Mary had a little Lamb” nursery rhyme). She spent 40 year advocating for a national, annual Thanksgiving holiday – a very determined person.
When Lincoln was looking for a way to bring the nation together, Sarah got her chance to convince him. In 1863, Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation declaring the last Thursday in November a day of “thanksgiving and praise”.
For 75 years after Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation, succeeding presidents honored the tradition and annually issued their own Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring the last Thursday in November as the day of Thanksgiving.
However, in 1939, there was a controversy.
In 1939, Thanksgiving was going to fall on November 30. That meant only 24 shopping days until Christmas. Retailers begged FDR to push Thanksgiving just one week earlier. Retailers hoped that with an extra week of shopping, people would buy more. (Retailers are still trying ways to extend the shopping season – like the stores that start their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving. Kudos to REI, HomeGoods, TJ Maxx, Marshalls and all other retails that are bucking the trend this year. If you know of one, please give them credit in the comments.)
So FDR announced his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1939, declaring the date of Thanksgiving to be Thursday, November 23, the second-to-last Thursday of the month. Not one of FDR’s good ideas. It caused quite a bit of confusion and governors, who customarily issued their declarations after the president, didn’t all follow the new date.
Finally, on December 26, 1941, Congress passed a law declaring that Thanksgiving would occur every year on the fourth Thursday of November.
So if you are one of the lucky ones that will have family gathered together and a feast to eat, reflect back and give thanks.
Have a wonderful holiday, wherever you are!
"In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices." — Elizabeth Gilbert
Insights on writing, characters, humor and other tidbits from the author of the "Scoops and Schemes" series of novels.
Join the conversation on Facebook !
Nancy's books are available for Kindle, Nook and other e-readers. Find retailers here.