Let’s Talk Turkey – Tradition versus Truth
As far back as I can remember my family celebrated many holidays including Thanksgiving. Each year grandma and mom would spend countless hours in the kitchen cooking up the yearly feast. As the family gathered to spend the day together many memories were made, the halls were decked with laughter and some tears, too. Sitting down to the enormous amount of rich foods, our family consumed the feast in less time than it took grandma and mom to set the table.
Over the years growing up I remember times when it was a burden on our struggling family to buy the traditional foods everyone came to expect. Although she tried to hide them I’d often see mom crying over the finances and the embarrassment the lack of them often brought. Grandma tried to make up for it by providing more than enough yet my parents knew the truth and it still hurt. Yes, there were good memories but there were times when I wish I weren’t at the table too. Do you have memories like those too?
Years later a good friend posed a question that I couldn’t answer. That question was “Why do you celebrate Thanksgiving”?
The answer I gave was somewhat a coined phrase “Because we always have”. That question started a series of events including some deep thinking on my part and some serious research as to what Thanksgiving really is, why we celebrate it and if I wanted to continue to support an age old tradition.
The First Thanksgiving
As most baby-boomers and schoolchildren know, the history of Thanksgiving began when the Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered together to celebrate a successful harvest. The first Thanksgiving was held in the fall of 1621, sometime between September 21 and November 11, and was a three-day feast. The Pilgrims were joined by approximately 90 of the local Wampanoag tribe, including Chief Massasoit, in celebration. They ate fowl and deer for certain and most likely also ate berries, fish, clams, plums, and boiled pumpkin.
Although this is where the history books of today leave off there is more to the story. This time of thanksgiving was not an annual event. No, instead those early pilgrims and native people gave thanks daily and only sporadic feasts were held for events like the end of a drought, a battle that ended or a harvest.
Beginning in October 1789 President George Washington declared Thursday, November 26th to be a national day of thanksgiving and prayer. Yet even after that declaration it was not an annual celebration.
Mother Who Inspired Thanksgiving
We owe the modern concept of Thanksgiving to a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book and author of the famous “Mary Had a Little Lamb” nursery rhyme, spent 40 years advocating for a national, annual Thanksgiving holiday. In the years leading up to the Civil War, she saw the holiday as a way to infuse hope and belief in the nation and the constitution. So, when the United States was torn in half during the Civil War and Lincoln was searching for a way to bring the nation together, he discussed the matter with Hale.
On October 3, 1863 President Lincoln issued a proclamation that declared the last Thursday of November to be a day of thanksgiving and praise. Thanksgiving became a national holiday, an annual holiday with a specific date.
For 75 years after Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation, succeeding presidents honored the tradition and annually issued their own Thanksgiving Proclamation, declaring the last Thursday in November as the day of Thanksgiving. However, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not. In 1939, the last Thursday of November was going to be November 30. Retailers complained to FDR that this only left 24 shopping days to Christmas and begged him to push Thanksgiving just one week earlier. It was determined that most people do their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving and retailers hoped that with an extra week of shopping, people would buy more.
So when FDR announced his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1939, he declared the date of Thanksgiving to be Thursday, November 23, the second-to-last Thursday of the month.
The new date for Thanksgiving caused a lot of confusion. Calendars were now incorrect. Schools that had planned vacations and tests now had to reschedule. Thanksgiving had been a big day for football games, as it is today, so the game schedule had to be examined.
Political opponents of FDR and many others questioned the president’s right to change the holiday and stressed the breaking of precedent and disregard for tradition. Many believed that changing a cherished holiday just to appease businesses was not a sufficient reason for change. Atlantic City’s mayor derogatorily called November 23 as “Franksgiving.”
In spite of all the confusion and controversy the president’s plan didn’t work. A day set aside to bring families and the country together became a day that pulled people apart. The proclamation set the precedent to host a big feast the retail community started advertising to draw more consumer dollars when spending was at an all time low.
The research provided me with the answer I was looking for. The fact that the pilgrims were thankful and celebrated with the natives was a good choice. Choosing to have a family get together to celebrate family, life and happiness is also a great reason to enjoy a delicious meal together. However, dedicating a day to celebrate to increase profits for merchants at the expense of families unable to afford it yearly…I’m not convinced that is good behavior or one I choose to continue to take part in.
My choice for celebrating has now centered on truth instead of tradition. The origin of any holiday should be explored in totality and thought put into our personal decisions; not just because we always have.
Life is a precious gift, one given to each of us every day that we wake and take our first conscious breath. Celebrate thanksgiving for all you have each day, 365 days a year. Spend wisely the resources you are blessed with through your job, business or a combination of both. Honor your family with your time because you want to not because you are obligated to attend some celebration proclaimed years ago for selfish reasons. Let truth set you free and tradition fall by the side as you enjoy the gift you’ve been given this day.
If this has given you food for thought, made you stop to think or you know of someone who might enjoy it please…pass this along. Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Carla Gardiner is known as “THE Fiery Grandma” because she found new energy, endurance and youth. Her passion and purpose lies with baby boomer trends, the people she works with daily; aging men, women, moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas who want to feel better, have more energy and have fun like they did when they were twenty-something. Join her for more energy, fun and profits.