We have come a long way in our national tradition of giving thanks.
After the winter of 1620 saw half of the Pilgrim settlers in Plymouth die, the Wampanoag tribe helped teach the settlers how to survive on the new continent. The following year the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a three-day autumn harvest feast now commonly acknowledged as the first Thanksgiving. These meals likely consisted mostly of corn and lobster and venison, though turkey may have been also been on the menu.
In the early colonial period long after that first feast Thanksgiving became something of a Puritan religious holiday of fasting and giving thanks to God. Eventually, governors of each state made decrees of thanksgiving sometime in the autumn to celebrate or give thanks for a variety of different reasons.
In 1777 the continental congress declared that there be a national day of thanksgiving that year in celebration of continental army’s victory over the British at Saratoga. In the 1800’s several states kept the tradition of celebrating a day of Thanksgiving sometime around the autumn harvest.
Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, began writing politicians urging them to create a national day of Thanksgiving, which she felt could cool the temperament of a nation seemingly headed to war with itself. Finally in 1863, four months after the victory at Gettysburg, President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in an attempt to help unify a divided nation. Thanksgiving Day is still celebrated on the last Thursday in November.
When exactly turkey became synonymous with the Thanksgiving Day meal is unclear, however, wild turkeys are found in abundance in North America. In fact, the turkey was almost named the national bird. In the early 20th century new immigrants were taught how to make turkey and stuffing as a way to become Americanized according to food historian Tracey Duetsch at the University of Minnesota. Overtime turkey became more and more popular and eventually became a Thanksgiving staple.
In the late 1870's Horce Vose, a poultry dealer, began sending turkeys to the White House to gain publicity for his business. The practice of gifting the First Family with a turkey eventually became a tradition carried on by the Poultry and Egg National Board and the National Turkey Federation. Through the years various presidents sometimes sent their gifted turkeys to zoos and farms, but the practice became normalized under Ronald Reagan. George H.W. Bush being protested b animal rights groups in 1989 was the first to publicly give a Presidential pardon to his gifted turkey.
Beginning in the 1870’s college teams played football games on Thanksgiving Day, until the University of Michigan made it an annual tradition in 1885. This has been cited at the “beginning of Thanksgiving Day Football.” In 1920’s the National Football League was established and followed the collegiate practice of having Thanksgiving Day games. In 1934 in an effort to get greater attention and attendance the Detroit Lions became the first team to ever broadcast the Thanksgiving Day game against the Chicago Bears. Let us all give thanks for that genius stroke of marketing that helped make American Football the most popular sport in the land.
National parades had already started to become traditions by the 1920’s, and department stores like Macy’s seized on the events as a way to help kick-off their Christmas shopping season. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City was held in 1924.
In modern times, we are inundated with the hustle and bustle of daily life, and often overwhelmed with a constant stream of information coming through our various devices from all over the world. Let’s give thanks that we have this time to slow down. Let’s not let the holiday overwhelm us with anxiety and tasks and shopping lists. Let’s spend some quality time with our families and friends. Let’s take time to reflect on what’s really important in our lives. And let’s open our hearts to those who are lonely or in need.
We have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which is living in a nation with a long tradition of giving thanks. Let’s remember all the struggles our forbearers form every corner of the earth went through to bring us here. Let’s remember the spirit of the holiday and begin to help heal the wounds of a divided nation by healing our own wounds and determining to live with an attitude of gratitude and with animosity toward no one.
We wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. We are very grateful for each and every one of our members and volunteers for all you do every day to make South Carolina a wonderful place to call home.