From the first observance  to the celebrations today, Thanksgiving has come a long way. The evolution of Thanksgiving as a National Holiday is an interesting story. In the previous article we talked about the celebration by the Pilgrims, the one ahead takes you from the pre-independence period to present day.

During the colonial regime Thanksgiving proved to be a significant event  in promoting national unity. The first issue of the First Continental Congress as they met at Carpenters Hall was "Can we open the business with prayer?" Despite their diversity of religions, after fierce debate, inspired by delegate Sam Adams, their first official act was prayer - with remarkable results. From the first day, miraculous unity seemed to have held the far-flung colonies together. Before this Thanksgiving was more or less locally confined.

Although not intended to be a perpetual annual observance, in October of 1777 a Day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed. Although it marked the first time that all 13 colonies were to join in such a celebration, it was equally a commemoration of the patriotic victory over the British at Saratoga. Nevertheless, over time, the notion of a Thanksgiving Day began to spread to other New England colonies.

In 1789, President George Washington issued a general proclamation which named November 26 as a Day of National Thanksgiving. Many were opposed to the idea. There was an air of discord among the Colonies and a feeling that the hardships of a handful of Pilgrims hardly warranted a national holiday. In that same year, the Protestant Episcopal Church announced that the first Thursday in November would be a standard annual day for giving thanks. Yet, for many years, the United States had no regular national Thanksgiving Day (although some states independently observed a yearly Thanksgiving holiday). By 1830, New York had an official State Thanksgiving Day and other Northern States quickly followed suit. In 1855, Virginia became the America's first Southern State to adopt the custom.

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) It was largely due to the efforts of one Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) that America eventually recognized, on a united national level, the feast known as Thanksgiving Day. Editor of "Boston Ladies' Magazine," and later contributing to "Godey's Lady's Book," Hale dedicated 40 years of her life to a campaign which promoted the establishment of a National Day of Thanksgiving. Hale is credited with persuading Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday in the United States. In 1863, President Lincoln decreed that the holiday was to be observed on the last Thursday of every November. (Hale...born in Newport, New Hampshire...was a prolific writer whose major surviving work is the children's poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb.")

For the 75 years which followed, each President in office formally proclaimed that Thanksgiving Day should be celebrated on that last Thursday but, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set it for one week earlier. The President's reason for this change was that he wanted to help businesses by lengthening the shopping period prior to Christmas. Public uproar against this decision caused the celebration of Thanksgiving to be moved back to its original date two years later. In 1941, it was finally ruled by Congress that the fourth Thursday of November would be deemed an observation of Thanksgiving Day and that it would be a legal federal holiday.

Of the 300 million turkeys raised for consumption each year, one is chosen to be sent to the White House. There, the turkey is granted clemency from death and receives the President's pardon. This lucky bird is then sent to a farm where it lives out the rest of its days in peace, free from the threat of being the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving Dinner.

Thanksgiving Index