Monday, November 18, 2013

U.S. History 101 -- Thanksgiving & Traditions

Thanksgiving......have you ever wondered how this came to be, and who made it official?  I'm always amazed when I stop to think about the inventiveness of people, and quite honestly am amazed that they create the things that they do.  That being said, that's what makes the human race so incredible......their inventiveness.  History tends to get lost sometimes, and I thought, so it is with Thanksgiving.  We think we know the truth.....but do we really?  So where did Thanksgiving come from.......

 In 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower, landed near the tip of Cape Cod after a 66-day journey from England.  During the first year after landing the 102 Pilgrims mainly lived on the tiny ship, and during that year, more than half of them died from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease.   

Side note......the women on that ship must have been "women of steel".....I think if I'd been a
woman on that ship, I'd either have gone stark raving mad, or moved off-shore to live in the woods.....I mean, I need my own space,and living on some itty bitty ship with 100 other people just wouldn't work for me!  These ships weren't like the Carnival Cruise Lines or Royal Caribbean.......no portholes.....no luxuries.....seriously cramped in every way imaginable!  Oh, and by the way....#1 here is the "Poop Deck"....I looked it up (my curiosity was why did they call it this!), and it didn't get it's name the way you think it might have....located at the stern (or the rear of the ship), this deck takes its name from the Latin word puppis - which means after deck or rear.  See, you can learn something new every day! 

In March 1621, their first Spring in the New World, they finally moved to shore.  Weakened by life on the ship, they were fortunate enough to be met by an Abenaki Indian who greeted them speaking in the  English language. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto (also known as Tisquantum), a member of the Pawtuxet tribe.  Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe.

Squanto Side Note:  Why this man ever wanted to help these people is just nothing short of a miracle.  Around 1605 he was taken prisoner by
Captain George Weymouth who was exploring the New England coastline for Sir Ferdinando Gorges, owner of the Plymouth Company. Captain Weymouth took  Squanto(Tisquantum) to England, and taught him English, then trained him to be a guide and interpreter. Finally, Squanto returned to New England in 1614 with an expedition led by Captain John Smith.   Once again Squanto was abducted by an Englishman, Thomas Hunt, one of Smith's lieutenants on his way back to Patuxet. Hunt was planning to sell fish, corn, and captured natives in Málaga, Spain. There, Hunt attempted to sell Squanto and a number of other Native Americans into slavery in Spain for £20 apiece.  (The relatives of our forefathers were a bit mercenary don't you think?)

Back to our story.......


In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, and then Governor William Bradford organized a feast to celebrate their harvest by inviting a group of the colony’s Native American allies, including the  Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—the festival lasted for three days (who did all those dishes?  And where did they store the leftovers....were there leftovers?). 

There is no official record of the banquet’s exact menu, however the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission to secure meat for the event, and when they returned they brought lobster, seal and swan.  When, the Wampanoag guests arrived, the came with five deer. It has been suggested by historians, that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods (camp fire ladies....be glad for that double oven in your kitchen!). Because the Pilgrims had no oven and their sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations. 
(Can you imagine a Thanksgiving dinner without PIESSSSS!)

1623 - They celebrated a "thanksgiving" again, to celebrate a switch from communal farming to privatized farming, and a 14-day rain that culminated in a larger harvest. As various colonies formed, they each celebrated a "thanksgiving" as was their custom in England, but there was no uniform day of celebration at this point.  
That is until.......
the Revolutionary War and George Washington.......
duh duh duh, duhhhhhhhhhh.....

 
1777 - As a victory celebration after defeating the British at Saratoga, George Washington, the leader of the revolutionary forces in the American Revolutionary War, proclaimed a "Thanksgiving" in December 1777.

1782 (October 11)  John Hanson, declared that the fourth Thursday of every November was to be Thanksgiving Day. (November 1781, Hanson was elected President of the Continental Congress, and became the first president to serve a one-year term under the provisions of the Articles of Confederation.)<--This bit of news would be another blog....you know...who was really our first president.....


1789 - Finally on October 3rd of this year President George Washington, made the proclamation that created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America. This was the FIRST, of what we now know as "federal" holidays!

In the beginning of America's history,  days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states as a tradition of celebrating the harvest of the year of various victories. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War,  President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a  national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November, in a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God
to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”  This is all thanks to the efforts of  a Sarah Josepha Hale, who was a magazine writer and editor, and who had campaigned many politicians to declare a national day of "Thanksgiving".  Since then, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States.


 Initially celebrated on the the last Thursday of November,  Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week, in1939, in an attempt to spur retail sales (and thus the precursor to "Black Friday") during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November. Politicians being who they are, argued vehemently over the particular day, until Roosevelt signed a decree making it the 4th Thursday of November.

Over the years, Thanksgiving has evolved into a day of eating, parades, and football games (these began in Massachusetts during the 19th century), and most recently shopping.  Perhaps the most well-known parade is the 2.5-mile Macy's/New York City's Thanksgiving Day parade, which started in 1924, and culminates with the introduction of Santa Claus on the last float.  It's guesstimated that actual spectators are generally between 2-3 million people along the parade route, and then there's the world-wide television audience.  

Just prior to Thanksgiving Day, the President of the United States, as well as numerous state governors, pardon one turkey from being "the" dinner.   Although there is some dispute as to when this actually started, Harry S. Truman claims credit as being the first to grant mercy to one noble foul on November 16, 1949.  These turkeys are sent to a farm, or petting zoo,  and officially declared retired
and off-limits for consumption.  In 1989, President George W.H. Bush, made the "turkey pardon" a permanent annual tradition upon assuming the presidency in 1989, and it has been carried on by every president each year since.

So.....now that you know more than you probably ever wanted to know about the history of Thanksgiving, here's a short video of the story behind Thanksgiving - get the kids and let them watch and listen!