I’m Happy just to be here.
In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt was approached by a group of US retailers who begged him to change the day of Thanksgiving from November 30 to November 23. The idea here was to increase the number of shopping days before Christmas bay giving people one more week to shop. Sort of like daylight savings time, but on a longer time scale. FDR probably thought, with the depression and the war in Europe going on, that it wouldn’t be that big a deal: he was wrong.
It set off a firestorm of controversy, Republicans referred to it derisively as “Franksgiving” and half of the state governors refused to go along with it: 23 states had Thanksgiving on the 23rd and half stuck with the 30’s. (Classic RED/BLUE split) Texas and Colorado celebrated both days. Of course we didn’t have TV or the Internet back then, so nobody really noticed—————– The same thing happened the next year, and nobody was all that happy with it, so Congress passed a law moving the day of Thanksgiving from the “last Thursday in November” to the “fourth Thursday in November” which means that the last possible day Thanksgiving can fall upon is November 28, and the earliest would be, like this year, November 22.
If you look around the Internet, you’ll find a lot of stories about the “Myths of Thanksgiving” and a few more in opposition to this “revisionist” view, (specifically Rush Limbaugh’s “the real story of Thanksgiving” which recasts the event as a celebration of capitalism, although Rush fails to see the difference between “Pilgrims” and “Puritans”).
In reality, the foundational and traditional “Thanksgiving” that we all studied in grade school (Or at least the one I remember: I’m 60) is pretty much the version of events propagated by the “Mother of Thanksgiving”, Sarah Hale. Hale (who also wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb“) lobbied five presidents over 17 years before managing to get Abraham Lincoln to proclaim it a national holiday in 1863, making Thanksgiving the third national Holiday. Prior to this, “Thanksgiving” was unheard of outside New England, and even in that region there was no standard day of celebration.
The holiday was promoted as a way of “healing” the split caused by the civil war, and as a way to give all Americans a day to set aside our differences and give thanks for the good things we have.
Like most of you, I’d hoped the partisan bickering that characterized the election would fade for at least a while, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. We’ve even had the demise of the Twinkie cast as political drama, with both sides pointing the finger over the demise of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, which are now cast as “Cultural Icons” on the same level with Harley Davidson and Fender Guitars. (When was the last time you actually ingested either one? I mean Twinkies and Bread, not motorcycles or guitars.)
I propose that we all ignore whatever (secular or religious) version of the “actual events” we might subscribe to and get back to the original spirit of the holiday we all learned as children: sharing, giving thanks and setting aside differences.
Consider the legacy of the holiday and the fact that it was conceived and promoted to bring together a country deeply suffering from the aftermath of what is still our most costly war in terms of lives lost: 625,000 souls out of a population over a little over 30 million. It would seem that the differences that face us today are trivial compared to the chasm that faced the North and the South, but it should also be considered that we managed to pull together and the greatest and most prosperous nation the world has ever seen rose out of the ashes of the first “modern” war. After “Turkeygate”, Roosevelt managed to pull the US together and our industrial might and the courage and sacrifice of our fighting men helped turn the tide in the greatest war the world has ever seen. We have plenty to give thanks for.
E Pluribus Unum