Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Very Brief History of America's National Day of Thanks

Thanksgiving is our one true national holiday, celebrated by virtually every American. Although we point to the "First Thanksgiving", the meal shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621, as the start of it all, there was no National Day of Thanksgiving until the Civil War.  On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that the last Thursday of November was to be "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise" for "the whole American every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands...."

In the 242 years between the "First Thanksgiving" and Lincoln's proclamation, there was no
consistency or continuity to the observance of a day of thanksgiving. Several states, especially those in New England, held a yearly celebration, but not necessarily on the same day; occasionally a President invited Americans to observe a day of thanks (George Washington issued the first request on October 3, 1789), but it was not an annual event, and no such presidential invitation was issued between 1815 and 1863.

Thanksgiving continued to be celebrated the fourth Thursday of November until 1939. That year, in an attempt to urge Americans to shop more and early for Christmas, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November. In 1941, at Congress' urging, F.D.R. permanently returned Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday.

Americans aren't alone in enjoying a national day of thanksgiving. Many countries have a yearly thanksgiving celebration, which, like ours, is really a day to give thanks for the harvest. In 1621, what the English colonists celebrated was the fact they'd had their first harvest, thanks to instruction from the Native peoples, and weren't going to starve to death that winter. From Canada to Korea and many nations in between, people of the world annually give thanks for the earth's bounty.

From the late 1800's to early 1900's, many Americans exchanged Thanksgiving postcards of either
a serious or humorous nature with family and friends. The colorful and intricate illustrations were
 beautiful reminders that Americans had many reasons to be thankful. If you are lucky enough to
 have an old family postcard album, you will likely find some Thanksgiving cards in the collection.

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