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Strange But True: Thanksgiving History

Oh, Thanksgiving, the time of the year where we gather together with friends and family, eat too much food, and subsequently slip into temporary comas.  In all seriousness, though, this holiday signifies giving thanks to the Lord and those around us for the blessings in our lives. Thanksgiving has a rich, interesting history. Unfortunately, sometimes we neglect the complex history of Thanksgiving. 

It is commonly accepted that the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621, but that may not actually be true.  Michael Gannon, a historian, once stated that Spaniards had a feast with a native Floridian tribe after a church service in 1565.  Around 224 years later, Thomas Jefferson declared his opposition to the holiday. The historical figure derided the idea of Thanksgiving, calling it the “most ridiculous idea” he had ever heard. Year later, in an effort to lengthen the Christmas shopping season during the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the final Thursday of November to the Thursday prior to it.  However, this change only withstood two years under intense backlash. He officially changed Thanksgiving Day’s date back to the fourth Thursday of November in 1941.

On that note, why does Thanksgiving always fall on a Thursday, when the majority of other holidays occur on Mondays?  No one knows for sure. It may have to do with the colonists’ Puritan roots; Thursdays were typically the days on which religious lectures would be given.  A Thursday date would also distance the holiday from the Puritan Sabbath Day. Or perhaps the holiday occurs on the fifth day of the week to honor George Washington’s original proposal of the holiday.  Washington declared Thursday, November 26th, 1789 to be the first celebration of Thanksgiving. When Lincoln declared Turkey Day an official American holiday during his administration, he may have wanted to imitate this decision.

Now, let’s shift the focus to the star of the Thanksgiving spread: the turkey.  When they first visited America, the Spaniards gave this American fowl its name. In Europe, guinea fowls were called “turkeys” because they had been introduced to the culture by Turkish merchants.  The Spanish found a guinea fowl with a similar flavor in America, which caused them to name said birds “turkeys” as well. Hundreds of years after the naming process was completed, Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to become America’s national bird instead of the eagle; he stated that the former was “more respectable” than the latter.  As for why turkey has become the center of the traditional holiday feast, the answer is unclear; many different theories and stories exist on the matter.

Hopefully, some of these odd facts may help you derail an uncomfortable political conversation at the dinner table.  Happy holidays, everyone.

 

Did you learn something new from this article? Do you have any other interesting facts about Turkey Day, or maybe a special holiday tradition you and your family have? Let us know in the comments!

Sources: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fdr-establishes-modern-thanksgiving-holiday

http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1862503_1862505_1862523,00.html

https://www.cnn.com/2016/11/21/health/thanksgiving-fun-facts-trivia-trnd/index.html

https://wonderopolis.org/wonder/why-is-thanksgiving-always-on-a-thursday

All images are taken from Google unless otherwise noted.

2 Comments

  1. Awesome article, Cassie! I didn’t know that FDR tried to change the holiday date to extend the Christmas shopping season, that’s really interesting.

    I may end up using some of these next week. 😉

  2. Haha, I can’t imagine a turkey as America’s national bird. Here in Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving on the 2nd Monday of October. Since all the leaves have already fallen and we already have snow, I guess having an earlier Thanksgiving makes sense. 🙂