Monday, November 29, 2010

The History of Thanksgiving

The Little Known – but true – History of Thanksgiving…

Despite the popular belief that Thanksgiving originated with the colony at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, researchers have actually pinpointed the actual first Thanksgiving to have been held a whopping 56 years earlier.
According to scholars, the first known Thanksgiving took place during September 1565, in Saint Augustine, Florida when Spanish settlers held a Mass of Thanksgiving after arriving safely in the new world. It wasn’t until 1619 when English settlers in the Virginia Colony held a similar day of thanks…and then two full years after that, the colonists at Plymouth Plantation celebrated the famed Thanksgiving of 1621.
But the story doesn’t end there.

Around 1789, President George Washington proclaimed “a day of thanks” to be observed. It was not an official national holiday, but it did become popular with many Americans, who would select their own state or city observance day, usually in the fall. But not everyone was in favor…there were people going through hardships who were actually against having a day dedicated for giving thanks. In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself scoffed at the idea of a thanksgiving day. 
But most Americans liked the idea, and around the time of the Civil War, this day of thanks had become a very popular – yet unofficial – event. Magazine editor and writer Sarah Josepha Hale took up the cause, and wrote many editorials and letters to politicians about making an official “day of thanks.” (You might know Sarah yourself, from her epic poem, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”) Her strong efforts paid off, and around the end of 1863, President Lincoln officially proclaimed a “day of thanksgiving” to be observed on the last Thursday of November.

But then in 1939, during the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt switched Lincoln's chosen date of the last Thursday of November to the second-to-last Thursday of November. Why? Purely in order to extend the post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas shopping season! The move was met with confusion and criticism – so in 1942, Congress signed a law making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November, a law which is still in effect today.

No matter how you celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, remember the words of John F. Kennedy: 

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” 

May this holiday season be the most wonderful time of year for you and your family, friends, and colleagues!

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