Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Evolution of Thanksgiving as a national American holiday & FDR's mistake

Franklin Delano Roosevelt portrait from an exhibit at the Blackhawk Museum in California. Don't know the painter for this, but it certainly looks like FDR at one of his fireside chats.

On November 26, 1941, Franklin D Roosevelt established the modern Thanksgiving holiday. On this day President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill officially establishing the 4th Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

The tradition of celebrating the holiday on Thursday dates back to the early history of the Plymouth & Massachusetts Bay colonies, when traditional English & European post-harvest holidays were celebrated on the weekday regularly set aside as "Lecture Day," a midweek church meeting where topical sermons were presented. And so the traditional feast days became integrally connected to religion in the British American colonies.

A famous Thanksgiving observance occurred in the autumn of 1621, when Plymouth governor William Bradford invited local Indians, who had taught them how to survive on their new land, to join the Pilgrims in a 3-day festival held in gratitude for the bounty of the season. The women cooked, the men sat down & joined one another to eat the feast.

Thanksgiving became an annual custom throughout New England in the 17th century; & in 1777, the Continental Congress declared the first national American Thanksgiving following the Patriot victory over the British at Saratoga. Now, the traditional fall feasting became connected to the colonies' fight for independence.

In 1789, President George Washington became the first president to proclaim a Thanksgiving holiday, when, at the request of Congress, he proclaimed November 26, a Tuesday, as a day of national thanksgiving for the U.S. Constitution. Thanksgiving now embodied both religious & democratic concepts.

However, it was not until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to fall on the last Thursday of November, that the modern holiday was celebrated nationally. With a few deviations, Lincoln's precedent was followed annually by every subsequent president--until 1939.

In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt departed from tradition by declaring November 23, the next to last Thursday that year, as Thanksgiving Day. Considerable political controversy surrounded this deviation, & some Americans refused to honor Roosevelt's declaration. For the next 2 years, Roosevelt repeated the unpopular proclamation, but on November 26, 1941, he admitted his mistake & signed a bill into law officially making the 4th Thursday in November the national holiday of Thanksgiving Day.