History of Thanksgiving and how it became a national holiday

William CasteelNewcomerstown News Published:

This Thursday, most Americans will be enjoying the typical Thanksgiving festivities such as food (turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie), watching the Macy's parade and football on television, and visiting with family and friends.

Most probably will not be thinking about the historical aspect of the holiday. It all goes back to the early chapters of the Bible and focuses on a large group of Hebrew people living in Egypt who were eventually led by Moses into the land of Canaan. There were many hardships during those days, just as the Pilgrims experienced centuries later. The Hebrews were in search of a place where they could worship as they pleased and also establish a government to their liking.

According to the Bible, the 16th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy gives rules for the observance of feasts to be observed by the people of Canaan.

The first verse says "observe the month of Abib" (which translates to corn). For thousands of years, people have held gatherings that are centered around the harvesting season. In the winter of 1620, nearly half of the Pilgrims that came to America later perished due to the severe weather and lack of food. The following summer brought much more hope to the remaining population with flourishing crops and an abundance of food. The governor later declared Dec. 13, 1621, as a day of feasting and prayer for the many blessings and success of their crops. The women worked many days preparing for the feast. Between the Pilgrims and the Indians, many types of foods were shared during the feast. Various types of wild game, foul, and fish, vegetables, mainly corn, pumpkin, squash, and succotash. Cornmeal was an important staple and was used to create desserts such as journey cake (consisted of cornmeal and various types of nuts). Another dessert was pumpkin and maple sap (later known as maple syrup). The feast was held outdoors for three days, and included prayer and singing. The custom of Thanksgiving spread through out Plymouth and other New England colonies. During the Revolutionary War, a special eight-day festival of thanks was held. George Washington issued a Proclamation for a day of thanks on Nov. 26, 1789. That same year, the Protestant Episcopal Church announced that the first Thursday in November would be a regular day of giving thanks unless otherwise stated by civil authorities. New York set an official day of giving thanks for their state in 1830, and the state of Virginia was the first southern state to follow the same custom in 1855.

Mrs. Sarah Hale, a writer for the then popular women's publication, "Godey's Ladies Book," worked nearly 30 years to promote the idea of a national day of giving thanks. Hale was born in New Hampshire in 1788 and was familiar since her childhood of celebrating and giving thanks at every harvest season since this was the custom in the New England area.

She wrote several U.S. Presidents concerning her idea, and in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln officially proclaimed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated across the country.

In 1939, President Franklin Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the holiday date, moving it up a week earlier to give merchants more time for the upcoming Christmas holiday.

In 1942, the U.S. Congress proclaimed it a legal, national holiday on the fourth Thursday of November every year.

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