Many countries have thanksgiving days or harvest days or days of providence, often in the autumn. America’s is not unique, but it is uniquely American.
The American Thanksgiving, celebrated on the final Thursday every November, is older than the country itself. There is no way to separate fact from legend about the first American Thanksgiving, the one said to have been celebrated by Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 at Plymouth Plantation, but it is known that by 1630 Massachusetts Bay Colony was celebrating its own Thanksgiving. (The Pilgrims and the Puritans who were building Massachusetts Bay Colony were not friends, even though both groups were made of Calvinists who did not find the Anglican Church strict enough.)
(The Pilgrim William Bradford’s famous journal, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” which covers the years from around 1630 to 1650, recounts that first Thanksgiving, and is a source of imagery for our cultural memory of our first Thanksgiving, vanished during the Revolutionary War and was not found or generally known about until 1897. It is essentially a twentieth century document re-affirming what we were telling ourselves about ourselves.)
During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress proclaimed several Thanksgiving Days, usually after a military victory, and various colonies created their own traditions. In some years, the first few presidents (not Jefferson) issued national proclamations of a Thanksgiving day and in some years they did not. Various states created their own traditions. Many of the states in the American South did not.
That is how things stood until 1863.
For two decades, a writer and editor named Sarah Josepha Hale wrote letters advocating a national Thanksgiving Day. It is her work in this matter that gives us our annual tradition. Hale would be famous regardless, as she wrote one poem that almost every English speaker knows: “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Her letters reached five presidents, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln, and finally Lincoln’s administration saw the brilliance of having a national day of thanksgiving: The Civil War was going to end sooner or later and the nation, north and south or north alone, was going to need unifying sentiments, a healing reminder of gratitude, even a new national holiday that was not of the north or the south in its mythology but newly created for the more strongly united United States of America.
The first modern Thanksgiving was proclaimed for that year, 1863, and it has been a national holiday since.
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I am grateful for the friends who help me through the difficult situations in life. Here are three who I have written about in 2014:
I am grateful for the support and readership that has come into my life in 2014 (this blog is a little over a year old now); several of you write to me regularly and you always make me feel like my work here is something you have welcomed into your own lives and that stuns me whenever I think about it.
And thank you to Aruna of Ripples N Reflections for her “Very Inspiring Blogger” award.
It is a Happy Thanksgiving at The Gad’s home, and it is because a few years ago I stopped trying to sort things out alone and asked for help. I hope it will be a happy and safe Thanksgiving for all the readers and fellow writers I met through this project so far in 2014.
Yours, Mark Aldrich
The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 25 asks, “Have you ever faced a difficult situation when you had to choose between sorting it out yourself, or asking someone else for an easy fix? What did you choose—and would you make the same choice today?”
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