We all know the origin of Thanksgiving. We have heard the story about the European settlers to the New World and how the Indigenous people helped them to adapt by teaching them how to grow food in their new environment. When the settlers reaped a great harvest, they shared their table with those that supported them as a way of giving thanks to them.
It got me to thinking about how Thanksgiving became a holiday. If we held to the tradition of the first Thanksgiving dinner in what would become the United States, wouldn’t we have dinner with neighbors and friends rather than primarily family? This question caused me to do a little research.
It turns out the tradition we take part in today has little to do with the feast we all learn about in school. The meal is, by now, loosely based on the first meal shared after that first harvest. The roots of the day are there, but the sentiment behind it is a little different.
The first congress of the United States pushed George Washington to declare a day of thanks to celebrate their freedom after the Revolutionary War. Washington did set a date, but it wasn’t an annual holiday until Abraham Lincoln made it official in 1863 to celebrate the changing feel of the Civil War. He wanted a holiday that would bring the country together.
Lincoln set the date for the fourth Thursday in November and it stayed that way until 1939. Franklin D. Roosevelt changed it to the third Thursday that year because Thanksgiving was going to fall on the last day of November. He worried that the short Christmas shopping season would damper the recovering economy.
In 1941, it was changed back to officially be the fourth Thursday because not all the states adopted the third Thursday Thanksgiving. For three years Thanksgiving was celebrated twice in the United States, depending on the state and causing great confusion.
So, I don’t have a definitive answer to my initial question about who we should be sharing a meal. It seems from even the history of the day that we should be breaking bread with neighbors and friends just as we did for the first meal.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It has all the feeling of Christmas without all the pressure to buy gifts. (More on gift giving in a future post.)
The characters on Friends may have had it right when they celebrated Thanksgiving together. Maybe the notion of a Friendsgiving that is becoming popular should be the norm.
Thoughts? Should our modern day Thanksgiving stay a family event or become more about bringing a community together?