Thursday Morning Open Thread: Thanksgiving, If We Can Keep It

Thursday Morning Open Thread:  Thanksgiving, If We Can Keep It

(Walt Handelsman via GoComics.com)

Although meant to unify people, the 19th-century campaign to make Thanksgiving a permanent holiday was seen by prominent Southerners as a culture war. They considered it a Northern holiday intended to force New England values on the rest of the country. To them, pumpkin pie, a Yankee food, was a deviously sweet symbol of anti-slavery sentiment…

Thanksgiving may have remained a regional, ad-hoc holiday if not for the efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, a Northern writer who is often considered the “Godmother” of American Thanksgiving. In 1825, she initiated annual letter-writing campaigns to governors asking that they collectively declare the final Thursday of November a celebration of thanksgiving. As the editor of Godey’s Lady Book, the most widely read magazine of the 19th century, she devoted pages of editorial space to pitching the national holiday as a unifying force in a young and diverse nation. Her 1827 novel, Northwood: A Tale of New England, gives the first detailed account of the Puritan Thanksgiving feast. She dedicates an entire chapter to the meal, in which she describes the “celebrated pumpkin pie” as “an indispensable part of a good and true Yankee Thanksgiving.”…

Southern leaders attacked Thanksgiving as the North’s attempt to impart Yankee values on the South. Virginians, especially, retaliated against Hale’s campaign. In 1856, the Richmond Whig published a scathing editorial on the District of Columbia’s “repugnant” declaration of thanksgiving, arguing that the holiday did nothing but rob men of a day’s wages and encourage drunkenness. As for the Northerners who started the celebration: “They have crazy society within New England’s limits, where they have been productive of little but mischief—of unadulterated and unmistakable injuries to sound religion, morals, and patriotism.”…

Despite Southern resistance, Hale and other Thanksgiving proponents continued to campaign. Eventually, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared the first national Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November of 1863. This was actually his second thanksgiving proclamation of that year; he also called for a thanksgiving feast after the Union victory at Gettysburg…

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