Thursday, November 25, 2010
The origins of Thanksgiving
¨Thanksgiving began as a sober Christian celebration of God's providential mercies. Thanksgivings were not automatic annual events, but proclaimed only when communities prospered; when they did not, a day of penitent fasting might be declared instead. This Calvinist custom, imported into the New England colonies, is where the holiday of Thanksgiving got it start.
But because we often tailor history to suit our needs, it has been assumed that the tradition began in Plymouth in 1621. Actually, there never was a single "first Thanksgiving" from which all subsequent holidays followed. The Plymouth celebration was not a religious holiday, but rather a secular harvest festival. Forgotten by later generations, it played no role in Thanksgiving tradition until it was rediscovered in 1841. Americans, looking to history for reassurance during the regional tensions that followed the Era of Good Feelings, recruited the conciliatory Pilgrim event to become their emblematic Thanksgiving origin - and thus the holiday we know today was, more or less, born.
And as the original New England Thanksgiving grew more secular, it became an early winter holiday custom that eventually spread throughout the entire nation. Some regions - Virginia in particular - resisted the adoption of this Yankee holiday, although Jefferson Davis proclaimed a nationwide Thanksgiving before Abraham Lincoln did. And while Lincoln did declare the first in the modern sequence of Thanksgivings in 1863, Thanksgiving did not become a legal holiday until 1941.¨
From New York daily news. Excerpt from the article Carving up Thanksgiving myths: Pilgrims and turkeys are more symbol than history. By James Baker.