Monday, November 10, 2008

A Bit of Info about Thanksgiving, Day 10

One of the first Thanksgiving observances in America was entirely religious and did not involve feasting. On Dec. 4, 1619, 39 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation on the James River near what is now Charles City, Va. The group's charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God.

The First New England Thanksgiving was celebrated less than a year after the Plymouth colonists had settled in the new land. The first dreadful winter in Massachusetts had killed nearly half of the members of the colony. But new hope grew up in the summer of 1621. The corn harvest brought rejoicing. Governor William Bradford decreed that a three-day feast be held. The first Thanksgiving Day, set aside for the special purpose of prayer as well as celebration, was decreed by Governor Bradford for July 30, 1623.

The women of the colony spent many days preparing for the feast. The children helped by turning roasts on spits in front of open fires. Indians brought wild turkeys and deer meat. The men of the colony brought geese, ducks, and fish. The women served the meat and fish with journey cake, corn meal bread with nuts, and succotash. Everyone ate outdoors at big tables.

On Nov. 26, 1789, President George Washington issued a general proclamation for a day of thanks. For many years there was no regular national Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Some states had a yearly Thanksgiving holiday, and others did not. But by 1830 New York had an official state Thanksgiving Day, and other northern states soon followed its example. Virginia was the first southern state to adopt the custom. It proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day in 1855. President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November, 1863, as "a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father."

Each year afterward, for 75 years, the President of the United States formally proclaimed that Thanksgiving Day should be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. But in 1939, President Roosevelt set it one week earlier. He wanted to help business by lengthening the shopping period before Christmas. Congress finally ruled that after 1941 the fourth Thursday of November would be observed as Thanksgiving Day and would be a legal federal holiday.

The above was copied from The World Book Encyclopedia, copyright 1971

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