Thanksgiving - a day we set aside to give thanks, but why do we celebrate this day? We are all familiar with the first “thanksgiving” celebrated in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag shared an autumn harvest feast. After that, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
The following was printed in the Indiana Weekly Register on November 4, 1863:
WHEREAS, The President of the United States, by his proclamation, bearing date on the third day of this month, has invited the citizens of the United States to set apart Thursday, the 26th day of November, Next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer.
Now, I, ANDREW G. CURTIN, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, do hereby recommend, that the People of Pennsylvania do set apart and observe the said day accordingly, and that they do especially return thanks to Almighty God, for the gathered harvests of the fruits of the Earth, –
For the prosperity with which He has blessed the Industry of our People, –
For the general health and welfare which He has graciously bestowed upon them, –
And for the crowning mercy by which the blood-thirsty and devastating enemy was driven from our soil by the valor of our brethren, freemen of this and other States –
And that they do especially pray for the continuance of the blessings which have been heaped upon us by the Divine Hand, –
And for the safety and welfare and success of our brethren in the field, that they may be strengthened to the overthrow and confusion of the rebels now in arms against our Beloved Country, –
So that Peace may be restored in all our Borders, and the Constitution and Laws of the Land be everywhere within them re-established and sustained.
Given under my hand and the Great Seal of the State, at Harrisburg, this twenty-eighth day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and the Commonwealth the eighty eighth.
THANKSGIVING BECOMES A NATIONAL HOLIDAY
The second Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought that threatened the year’s harvest and prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious fast. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis was common practice in other New England settlements as well.
The Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving each year during the American Revolution, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States. Washington called for Americans to express their gratitude for the conclusion of the war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanks during their presidential terms.
New York was the first to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving in 1817. The southern states remained largely unfamiliar with the tradition.
It wasn’t until 1827, when magazine editor and writer Sarah Josepha Hale - known for “Mary Had a Little Lamb” - launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she wrote editorials and sent several letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians pleading her case. This earned her the nickname, “Mother of Thanksgiving.”
The plea finally worked, as mentioned above President Abraham Lincoln designated the first national Thanksgiving in 1863 declaring the final Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. This date held until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. This plan was met with opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.
Although originally having religious significance, today much of that has been lost. Today we spend the day cooking and sharing a meal with family and friends. Turkey has become a staple, but it is unknown whether this was served at the first thanksgiving.
Parades have also become an integral part of the day - the iconic Macy’s Parade has been held since 1924, attracting 2 to 3 million spectators along the 2.5-mile route and many more in a television audience.
Beginning in the mid-20th century, the president has “pardoned” a turkey. This ritual has also been picked up by a number of governors.
Many of these traditions can be seen in an article appearing in the Indiana Progress on December 7, 1871. The accounting of Thanksgiving comes from Blairsville:
The streets of our town were quite a holiday appearance on Thanksgiving day. Places of business were principally all closed, and none but passenger trains were run on the railroad; but many a turkey was beheaded. Services were held in the greater portion of the churches and a number of appropriate sermons were delivered…
The cornet band appeared on our principal streets in the afternoon and discoursed stirring music.
Although Thanksgiving has gone through many changes over the years, one thing remains - spending time with family and friends. The Historical Society has many things to be thankful for, our members, donors, visitors, and all our supporters make what we do possible, we thank you for being a part of our mission to preserve and collect artifacts and material r