With help from History.com I’m fascinated by what a special holiday Thanksgiving has become. This Thanksgiving is the 400th anniversary of the Plymouth Colony settlers and members of the Wampanoag tribe having an autumn feast in 1621. Most historians consider this the first Thanksgiving when the colonists and the native Americans came together to “rejoice” for their harvest.
Rejoicing and giving thanks for what we have should still be the focal point of Thanksgiving even though other events have come along to add to the tradition of this uniquely American holiday.
The first official proclamation of a national Thanksgiving holiday came in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln called for an annual Thanksgiving celebration on the final Thursday in November. President Franklin Roosevelt decreed in 1939 that Thanksgiving would be celebrated a week earlier to lengthen the Christmas shopping season. There was an outcry from millions of Americans, with only 23 of the then 48 states adopting the third Thursday. In 1941, the holiday was returned to the fourth Thursday and has remained that way.
One of my favorite traditions for Thanksgiving Day is football, especially when the Dallas Cowboys are playing as they will be this year against the Las Vegas Raiders. The first Thanksgiving football game was a college match between Yale and Princeton in 1876. By the 1890s, professional, college and high school football rivalries were being played on Thanksgiving.
When my daughter and son were kids they watched Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City on TV. That tradition has passed to my grandchildren and my great grandchildren. The first year of the parade was in 1924 as Macy’s Big Christmas Parade two weeks before Thanksgiving. A year later the parade became Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on Thanksgiving Day. The huge balloons debuted in the parade in 1927.
We will see in TV news reports whether President Joe Biden will pardon a turkey this year. Beginning in the 1940s, farmers would give the president turkeys to roast during the holidays. When John F. Kennedy was president, he was the first to spare the turkey’s life in 1963, saying, “We’ll just let this one grow. It’s our Thanksgiving present to him.” The annual White House tradition of “pardoning” a turkey officially started with George H.W. Bush in 1989.
Whether any of these traditions will be part of your Thanksgiving, I hope you agree that we can be thankful for the lives saved from the COVID-19 virus and the efforts of our first responders and the U.S. Military to protect us. We realize there is much more to do to reduce the violence in our neighborhoods and address the issues that divide our nation. We need our President and members of Congress to do a better job of working together for what is in the best interest of all Americans.
Have a peaceful and safe Thanksgiving.
Bill Kadereit, President
National Retiree Legislative Network