Thanksgiving Over the Years

Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow. Although it started as a day to celebrate a good harvest, today it is a day of getting together with family and friends, to celebrate family and friendship. It is also considered the ‘kick-off’ of the Holiday Season, with the biggest shopping day of the year, “Black Friday” following Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving has been celebrated in the United States since 1621. It wasn’t always celebrated in November, or on a set day, that came later.

From the Wind River Mountaineer Lander, November 1913: Days of Past Thanksgiving: History Proves That There Always Has Been a Time Set Apart for Festivities. The first Thanksgiving in this country was not set apart as a day of religious observance, but for recreation. On December 11, 1621, Edward Winslow wrote home to England the following very quaint account of the week’s program: “Our harvest being gotten in our governor sent four men out fowling so we might in a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. The four killed so much fowl that with a little help served the company about a week. Among other recreations were exercises with our arms.”

In this tradition we have this item from the Van Tassell Pioneer, November 1914. Thanksgiving must be on the way; the trap shooters are turning out evenings getting their eagle eye in shape for the big shoot on turkey day. Come out and try the traps, if you think you know how to shoot.

The Mountaineer article continues, “Many of the Indians came amongst us and among them their greatest king Masaasoit with some ninety men, whom we for three days feasted and entertained. They went out and killed five deer, which they brought in and bestowed on our governor, upon the captains and others.”

So, we get a good idea of the hospitality offered in those days. We learn, too, from Governor Bradford, that wild turkeys were plentiful, so we feel a reasonable assurance that the turkey has a long and ancient lineage and prestige not to be usurped by any other bird on our Thanksgiving Day platter. Only fifty-five English speaking people sat down to the first Thanksday feast, but the addition of the Indians made a goodly company for whom the poor, lonely and homesick women prepared the dinner. There were only four of them, with one servant “and a few young maidens.” There is no record to be found of any religious worship during this week of feasting.

In 1628 the second Thanksgiving Day was ordered and observed by the Pilgrim fathers. Early Thanksgivings are not always celebrated in November nor upon Thursday, and it was not until 1677 that we find the first printed Thanksgiving proclamation, now owned by the Massachusetts Historical society.

It is interesting to note that since 1862 the president of the United States has set the last Thursday in November to be observed as a day of thanksgiving and harking back to Pilgrim days, what a vast difference. Compare the harvest then and the harvest now. Whether our forefathers were ever actually reduced to the traditional five grains of corn each, is a fact not decided by history, but it is true that they returned thanks for the most meager fare and endured the most grinding hardships without a murmur. Like our forebears we make of the day a great time for feasting and games and not so much of church going. It is a day for family reunions and a day of abundant opportunity for making a cause of Thanksgiving in the “other fellow’s’’ heart.

President George Washington issued the first Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789. Since that time, most presidents and state governors proclaim Thanksgiving Day.

The Newcastle Democrat, November 1895 Thanksgiving Proclamation. In conformity with the proclamation of the president of the United States I, William A. Richards, governor of the state of Wyoming, do hereby appoint and set apart Thursday, the 28th day of November, A. D. 1895 as a day of Thanksgiving and prayer. The American people have but few holidays, but of the number none is more cherished than Thanksgiving Day. Instituted in the United States in 1621 by the Plymouth Pilgrims, in a spirit of gratitude for their first harvest in America, it was an acknowledgment at its birth of man’s dependence, upon his Creator. It was perpetuated in many states by annual festival appointed by the governor, and it came to be regarded as a time particularly appropriate for family reunions.

Thanksgiving decorations, display courtesy of Vintiques of Wyoming, Clearmont

The national celebration in recognition of the year’s blessings, was first recommended by the proclamation of President Lincoln in 1863. (after the Union victory at Gettysburg) Conceived in the spirit of devoutness nourished at the family altar, accepted and recommended as a day worthy of national recognition by the president whose life and character exemplified all that its observance represents, it commends itself to every loyal citizen. Upon the day named it is recommended that we meet at our place of worship and render thanks to the giver of all good gifts for His mercy, charity and generosity toward us during the year. Will the humblest and least successful of our people have much for which to be thankful. Let us remember the poor and those in need and contribute of our means to their relief in the true spirit of charity. At the city of Cheyenne this 9 day of November, A. D. 1895 WM. Richards Governor.

School programs were held to celebrate the pilgrims landing, like this one from Riverside, Wyoming. The Grand Encampment Herald, December 1906 Entertainment at Riverside. The people at Riverside enjoyed pleasant afternoon at the Riverside school last week. The school entertained them with a Thanksgiving program which consisted of several numbers. The most important feature of the entertainment was play entitled “Thanksgiving Day.” It represented day among the Puritans, Pilgrims and Cavaliers in the early colonial days. The children were in costumes to represent the different people mentioned above. The purity, customs, the ideas of the Puritans were well portrayed by the children. Miss Corbin, the teacher deserves, much credit for her interest manifested in preparing the entertainment.

Although not as much a time of decorations as Christmas and Halloween, people often use a fall or harvest theme to decorate for Thanksgiving.

From the Lusk Hearld, Nov 1912 Thanksgiving Decorations. Nothing Nicer for Purpose Than Red Berries and Autumn Vines. If one has access to country fields in November. the glowing red berries and vines and branches of gorgeous hues that may then offer the most artistic material for Thanksgiving decorations. The downy thistle balls picked at the right time are effective mixed with autumn vines and berries. Autumn leaves when dry should be kept in box carefully and lightly packed, as the treatment makes them very brittle. By this method, however, their colors are preserved, and they may be used repeatedly.

Another tradition of Thanksgiving that started supposedly in 1865, when President Lincoln gave clemency to a turkey. However, it wasn’t until 1963 and President Kennedy gave a turkey a ‘reprieve’ and said, “Let’s keep him going.” President Biden recently pardoned two turkeys “Chocolate and Chip.”

Today Thanksgiving is a time when people gather to enjoy a nice meal, and to enjoy being a part of a family or a group of friends. In the tradition of the early days, when it was a time for sporting activities, and bringing in the harvest, today it is a day of football, parades, and reflecting on the year behind us. Since the early days, turkey has been the traditional course on Thanksgiving, along with many side dishes; sweet potatoes, stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy. Pumpkin pie is a traditional dessert for Thanksgiving.

So, no matter how you celebrate the day, have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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