Thursday, November 25, 2004

All About Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an annual American holiday celebrated by families, friends and magazines. Yes. Magazines. In fact, you could say our current version of Thanksgiving was invented by a magazine or more specifically a magazine editor.

Around this time every year, historians regale us with stories of what the first Thanksgiving was really like. We learn that it was unlikely they ate a stuffed turkey, there was no pumpkin pie, no cranberry sauce, and most of the food was provided by the Wampanoag not the pilgrims--who feasted on venison, lobsters, clams, oysters, and fish. Harvest festivals were a long standing tradition for the Wampanoag natives going back way before the arrival of the pilgrims. The pilgrims and colonists, devout Christians, observed many days of "thanksgiving" throughout the year in which prayer and fasting were the order of the day, not feasting.

The first national Thanksgiving was held in December of 1777 by colonists to celebrate the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga. But Thanksgiving was not celebrated consistently all over the country until much, much later. In 1827, Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale the editor of the most popular ladies magazine of the day, Godey's Lady's Book, began lobbying all they way up to the president for the instatement of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She felt it was a moral issue, that Thanksgiving would do no less than strengthen the country. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln finally agreed and proclaimed it that is should be celebrated by all Americans on the same day. The focus of the holiday was unity and peace because the country was undergoing a bloody Civil War, so the proclamation doesn't even mention the Thanksgiving of pilgrims and indians...

But it continues to be magazines that promote Thanksgiving, not just as a religious harvest celebration, but as a celebration of home, family, and sharing. There is hardly a magazine that doesn't make Thanksgiving a cover story in November. Magazines are filled with recipes, crafts and decorations, skits, you-name-it. Unlike other holidays, the magazine version of the holiday is actually the more meaningful one. For a country that prides itself on family and unity and being a country of immigrants, the mythological Thanksgiving is a most wonderful thing. It sure beats a day of prayer and fasting.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Note: A special thanks to Laura Schenone for sharing the story of Sarah Josepha Hale.