The ingredients of Thanksgiving

John Deasy

Thanksgiving was not celebrated in all states until the late 19th century as it was considered a ‘Yankee’ holiday.

By Lindsay Kuhn/Special to The Malibu Times

While the sugary traditions of Thanksgiving have become, for the most part, formulaic, a turkey of debate surrounds its history. Not only does the Library of Congress cite multiple “first Thanksgivings,” including the famous celebration by the pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 and a celebration of French Huguenots in 1564, it also credits a cornucopia of people with the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

The history of Thanksgiving is like a recipe without measurements; some people put more weight on certain ingredients than others.

In an interview with Jim Lehrer, historian Michael Beschloss cites the earliest Thanksgiving in 1621, after the pilgrims got through their first winter in Massachusetts. For the next century and a half, he said, there would often be celebrations of the harvest, but it wasn’t official until General George Washington became president and, in 1789, declared the last Thursday in November a holiday by introducing the resolution to Congress. But even then, Beschloss added, it was mainly celebrated in New England.

Beschloss mentioned that Thanksgiving wasn’t celebrated in places like Illinois as late as the 19th century, because it was considered a Yankee holiday.

It seems as though Thanksgiving has met numerous misgivings.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential historian, noted that Thomas Jefferson didn’t continue the custom of Thanksgiving because he thought it was suggestive of the monarchy.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday to include the likes of Illinois in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln yielded to the pressure of Boston editor Sara Hale who had been campaigning for this for years.

Rick Kennedy, a history professor, in the Lehrer interview, commented on the great steam of Sara Hale.

“She saw this as a time for uniting the country in this time of sectional crisis, and the pilgrims and Indians offered her a model. She just took the New England holiday and wanted to make it national,” he said.

Since then, Thanksgiving has encountered only one more temporary adjustment.

In 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to move Thanksgiving a week back because merchants, including the National Retail Dry Goods Association, told him there would be more time for holiday shopping. After much confusion, however, and resistance from people, especially calendar makers, the holiday resumed its place on the fourth Thursday in November.

Luckily for both the spirits of America and the likes of the National Turkey Foundation, Thanksgiving has evolved into a deeply rooted American tradition.

Sherrie Rosenblatt, a spokesperson from the National Turkey Foundation, said, “Ninety-five to 98 percent of people will have turkey at the center of their Thanksgiving meal.”

And the National Pork Council had something to say about that.

“Ham is more convenient. It’s pre-cooked. You don’t have to mess with it like turkey,” C.C. Snyder, a spokesperson from the National Pork Council said.

Even so, Rosenblatt estimated that 45 million turkeys would be eaten on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving can’t be accredited to one person, but its celebration, for the most part, relies on one dish: turkey.