Thanksgiving is one of the greatest traditions we as Americans celebrate each year. Dating back more than 150 years before our independence, it is hard to think of a time in our history when this holiday was not observed. There is always some question as to when or even where the first Thanksgiving occurred. The most commonly observed gathering took place in the autumn of 1621, when 53 settlers and 80 to 90 Native Americans gathered in Plymouth, Massachusetts. More likely than turkey and stuffing on the menu, they would have brought their own traditions to these festivities, with venison, berries and shellfish. The event was more important than the menu as both parties enjoyed the festivities for three days (without any football or Black Friday sales!).
How did we get from this harvest festival of thanksgiving to where we are today?
When Congress adopted the Great Seal on June 20, 1782, there was already some debate as to what symbol would anchor the centerpiece. Ben Franklin questioned the eagle’s validity to represent a brave and honest nation in a letter to his daughter on January 24, 1784. Since Franklin thought the eagle in this symbol resembled a wild turkey, it made him think of the noble characteristics that a wild turkey represented. So it is possible we could be feasting on stuffed eagle while all Americans embraced the turkey as the symbol of pride and bravery. But fortunately, Franklin never shared his view with anyone other than his daughter and turkeys became domesticated with roughly 535 million pounds being consumed by Americans each Thanksgiving.
It was Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed in 1863 that the last Thursday in November should become a national holiday. In the 1930s the term “Black Friday” was first used as merchants hoped this busy shopping day would take them out of “the red” and give them a profitable sales year ending in “the black”. Congress changed the observance of Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in 1941. This date would prolong the holiday shopping season and ever since then, I feel consumers and merchants focus has slipped a bit from giving thanks to getting as much as you can. In recent years “Black Friday” has become the longest day of the year. It is no longer good enough to crawl out of bed at 6 a.m.; we are now encouraged to give up family time by heading to the shopping centers by mid-afternoon Thanksgiving day. This is what I would call a “slippery slope”, giving new meaning to the term “Black Friday”.
Even the traditional football game on Thanksgiving had very innocent beginnings. The Yale versus Princeton game in 1876 came long before television or even radio. Now before the helium is let out of the Macy’s parade balloons, Pro players are selling us insurance, TV service, yogurt and pizza to name a few of the many great products we cannot live without. FOX, CBS and NBC will air three NFL games while ESPN and FS1 will host two college games. Football fans have much to be thankful for (said with tongue held firmly in my cheek). Don’t get me wrong football is a wonderful, exciting game to watch. I’m just not sure football or “shopping ‘till you drop” should be our main focus of a day set aside in thanks for the way we have been blessed.
Whatever traditions you wish to pass on to the next generation, make sure being thankful is at the top of that list. Take a “time-out” or “half-time” to plan as a family how you can show gratitude to others that have done so much for you. Or better yet, serve someone who has less than you to demonstrate thankfulness to them. Try stopping before you are waiting in a long checkout line to see if there is anyone around who might need help carrying a bag. Hold open doors for others even if it may make you miss out on a “Fit Phone” for $1.98. And before you have your first bite of venison and shellfish, take time to give thanks to God and all who have come before you to make this day possible.
Many of the facts for this article came from the following web site:
Random Facts and Interesting Trivia for the Curious Mind, Posted November 13, 2010 , Entitled 36 Little Known Facts About … Thanksgiving