On Thursday, November 24, 2022, Americans will celebrate our 81st, 159th, 233rd, or 401st Thanksgiving, depending on when you consider the true beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday. No matter what start date you use, our annual tradition of celebrating America continues for another year. Let's look at a few Thanksgiving pieces of information before discussing why this holiday is crucial to the American psyche.
According to Plimoth Patuxet Museums:
Thanksgiving is a national holiday that takes place on the fourth Thursday in November. But why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? And what is the meaning behind it?
People across the world have been celebrating and giving thanks for thousands of years. In this country, long before English colonists arrived, Native People celebrated many different days of Thanksgiving, including, for example, a “Strawberry Thanksgiving” and a “Green Corn Thanksgiving.”
The English also had a long tradition of Thanksgiving. They declared days of prayer to thank God when something good happened. For example, the English declared a day of Thanksgiving in the summer of 1623 when a gentle rain ended a long drought.
Likewise, in the fall of 1621, when their labors were rewarded with a bountiful harvest after a year of sickness and scarcity, the Pilgrims thanked God. They also celebrated their bounty with a tradition called the Harvest Home. In a letter to a friend in England, “E.W.” (Pilgrim Edward Winslow) wrote the only record of the celebration that survives:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
Winslow’s Letter in Mourt’s Relation (ed. Heath), 82
During the celebration, Massasoit, an important sachem (leader) of the Wampanoag People, along with 90 of his men, joined the English for three days of entertainment and feasting. We don’t know for sure why the Wampanoag joined the gathering or exactly what activities went on during those three days. We do know, however, that the celebration occurred sometime between September 21 and November 9, 1621. Later, in the 19th century, the event entered American popular imagination as the First Thanksgiving.
When it comes to Thanksgiving for Americans, The National Archives writes:
On September 28, 1789, just before leaving for recess, the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the President of the United States recommend to the nation a day of Thanksgiving. A few days later, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789, as a "Day of Publick Thanksgivin" - the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution. Subsequent presidents issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, but the dates and even months of the celebrations varied. It wasn't until President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Proclamation that Thanksgiving was regularly commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November.
In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. Concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations, while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. For two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving - the President and part of the nation celebrated it on the second to last Thursday in November, while the rest of the country celebrated it the following week.
To end the confusion, Congress decided to set a fixed-date for the holiday. On October 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate, however, amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays. The House agreed to the amendment, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on December 26, 1941, thus establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.
Sadly, there are entities in this nation that would love nothing more than to ruin Thanksgiving for everyone. I will not lend any voice to those who would destroy Thanksgiving due to faux outrage based on supposed revised historical "facts," selective outrage towards European colonists and early Americans based on bullshit claims of racism and genocide, or any of several supposed grievances. They are out there, and as far as I am concerned, they can shout to the void before they fall into it.
In a disturbing national trend over the past twenty years, Thanksgiving was pushed to be a road bump in the middle of the Christmas season. Too many people start preparing for Christmas immediately after Halloween, only to slam on the brakes the day before Thanksgiving. They quickly change gears for two days, then resume their two-month Christmas celebration. Complete bullshit! Thanksgiving matters, and we need to start treating it as such instead of an afterthought during the American holiday season (October 1 - January 1, give or take.)
I encourage we Americans change this mindset. I have always viewed the month of November as the closing out of Fall and a time to give thanks for what we have. Being an American, I have more than a month's worth of reasons to give thanks. Thanksgiving should be a beacon for what being an American is about. Instead of a consumer-obsessed collection of people, we are a people that need to stand up and give thanks for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness and shine it for the rest of the world. Thanksgiving is often a family holiday. Well, we Americans are one giant family, and we need to give thanks for what we have, no matter how much we may disagree,
Halloween was yesterday. Make 2022 the year you return Thanksgiving to its proper place at the Holiday Season table as an equal to Halloween and Christmas.