Final Paper Assignment: Why Thanksgiving?


Discussion

Why do we celebrate a national Thankgiving holiday? You all know the superficial and boring answer--the pilgrims, the Indians, etc., etc. But the historical record shows that Thanksgiving was not a national holiday until the Civil War. It wasn't proposed as a national holiday till the Jacksonian period. This link will give some background on the holiday.

Thanksgiving was observed annually in many places, but not in a consistent way or at the same time. It had a strong connection to traditional harvest festivals, which all societies tend to have. It became a national holiday partly at the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of an important woman's magazine, Godey's Lady's Book. In the 1830s Hale started a national campaign urging the adoption of a standard thanksgiving holiday. Some examples of her arguments are included below.

Hale was an extremely popular writer and editor. She couched her appeals in religious language and the language of domestic virtue. For example, in 1835, she wrote, "There is a deep moral influence in these periodical seasons of rejoicing, in which whole communities participate. They bring out, and together, as it were, the best sympathies in our natures."

You need to answer this question: What made the Thanksgiving holiday idea so appealing in the Jacksonian era?

Your paper should be about eight pages long. You need to consider what holidays Thanksgiving might have been replacing, and what social conditions might have made a Thanksgiving holiday appealing. Remeber to consider who Hale was and the audience she wrote for. What were their interests in a Thanksgiving holiday?

Your paper needs to include supporting evidence, drawn from the class readings and lectures. You need to quote from at least five of the books we've read. Your paper must include foot or endnotes.


THE LADY'S BOOK
Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Volume XV Page 238



November, 1837

EDITOR'S TABLE,


THIS month is the ninth in order in the old Roman Calender, as established by Romulus, March being the opening month in the year. It still retains its ancient name, which it received at the hands of the founder of the "Eternal City" - a name surviving the wreck of Rome's imperial majesty.

In "Britain's Isle" this is accounted the month of gloom and discomfort, when melancholy is fashionable, and gentleman-like, as though sympathy with the cheerless and sunless face of Nature ought, of course, to make the heart of man sad, and his race stern and sullen.

But this chill from the "Spirit of the frozen ocean" has never pervaded our young country. That merry anniversary, our Thanksgiving, has changed, to us, the gloomy aspect of the season, and made November (in which month the Thanksgiving should always be held) one of the brightest and best months in the year:

December has her own peculiar festival, which, to us, as Christians, cannot but make a powerful appeal by its holy associations. Christmas is a day set apart by Christendom to commemorate the nativity of our blessed Lord. What heart is there that does not beat with high emotion on the morning of this glorious day, as on the wings of imagination we are transported to Judea, and observe that group of simple-hearted shepherds, who were abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks, on the memorable night previous to our Saviour's birth! 'We hear the encouraging language which the angel of the Lord addressed them, as in view of the dazzling brightness which shone around them - they were sore afraid.

"Fear not! for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people! For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour; which is Christ, the Lord."

We listen to the music of the heavenly hosts, as in tones of the sweetest melody they celebrate the praises of God. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will towards men?"

From this circumstance it is that we regret that the festival of Thanksgiving has ever been divorced from November, to whom it rightfully belongs, and wedded to December, who is already honored above her peers, by the most sacred of all festivals - that commemorative of the nativity of Jesus Christ.

The noble annual feast day of our Thanksgiving resembles, in some respects, the Feast of Pentecost, which was, in fact, the yearly season of Thanksgiving with the Jews. It might, without inconvenience, be observed on the same day of November, say the last Thursday in the month, throughout all New England; and also in our sister states, who have engrafted it upon their social system it would then have a national character, which would, eventually, induce all the states to join in the commemoration of "In-gathering," which it celebrates. It is a festival which will never become obsolete, for it cherishes the best affections of the heart - - the social and domestic ties. It calls together the dispersed members of the family circle, and brings plenty, joy and gladness to the dwellings of the poor and lowly. None are left to pine in that most abject state of physical want, hunger, on the Thanksgiving; even the poor prisoner is cheered in his solitary cell, not so much by the thought that a good dinner awaits him on that day, as that he finds he is not forgotten by his more fortunate fellow beings - that love and charity still watch over him.

The moral effect of this simple festival is essentially good. It is a season of grateful joy in view of the rich blessings of Providence, which has thus crowned the year with its goodness. It is a part of the noble patrimony of our Puritan Fathers. Blessed be their memories! May their stern, uncompromising integrity - their deep piety which pervaded all their thoughts, feelings and actions, running through all their institutions - their simplicity of character - their devoted love of country - their fearless support of religious liberty - - may these virtues ever be the inheritance, the guard, the guide, and guerdon of their descendants. The Puritans stamped themselves for good upon the institutions which they established, and the habits and customs which they formed and transmitted to their descendants. And this spirit has gone out over our whole country, more or less, and has fashioned and modified the American character.

October 1857

THANKSGIVING DAY.--We hope the Governors will unite on November 26th, the last Thursday in the month. Then the war of politics will be over for the year; and all elections, State and National, will be closed, the harvests of the country gathered in, the preparation for winter made; and the crowning glory of all the blessings God has, during the year, bestowed on out great nation, would be the union of all our States and Territories in a day of National Thanksgiving. The peoples of the Old World would thus be taught that freedom from man's tyranny brings us nearer to God--that, while rejecting earthly lords, we willingly acknowledge our dependence on the Lord of heaven and earth. The celebration of the Fourth of July has a marked effect on out national character. The American citizen dwelling in foreign countries feels the influence of observing that day. It gives him an increase of honor among the millions who are pining in vain for such high privileges as his national birthright bestows; and he is proud of the title, "American citizen."

The Day of Thanksgiving would, if observed nationally, soon be celebrated in every part of the world where an American family was settled. If the last Thursday in November could be established as the Day, and known to be the time in each year when, from Maine to New Mexico, and from Plymouth Rock to the Pacific sands, the great American people united in this festival of gladness and gratitude, the whole world might be moved to join in the rejoicing, and bless God for his goodness to the children of men.

Last year, nearly all States and Territories united on that day. This year, we trust, there will be no blank in this number, nor a seat left vacant at the Table of the Nation.

November 1857

THE NATIONAL THANKSGIVING

"Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength."--NEHEMIAH viii. 10.

Such was the order given to the people of Israel for the celebration of their National and Religious Festival, the "Feast of Weeks." We learn from this that a day of yearly rejoicing and giving of gifts was not only sanctioned but enjoined, by Divine authority, on God's chosen people. Such yearly festival is not positively enjoined on Christians; but that it is both expedient and beneficial may be safely urged, when we find that the practice was approved by our God and Father in heaven. We have, for many past years, urged the advantages of having a day set apart by the civil authorities of each State, which every heart in our wide land may welcome as the time of joy and thankfulness for the American people.

Our Day of Thanksgiving represents, in many striking coincidences, the Jewish Feast of Weeks; only make our day national, and we should then represent the union of joy that was the grand proof of the Divine blessing.

Such social rejoicings tend greatly to expand the generous feelings of our nature, and strengthen the bond of union that binds us brothers and sisters in that true sympathy of American patriotism which makes the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans mingle in our minds as waters that wash the shores of kindred homes, and mark, from east to west, the boundaries of our dominion.

The Creator has so constituted the race of mankind that their minds need a moderate portion of amusement as imperatively as the body at times wants stimulating food. The recreative joyousness, the return, if you please, to the gayeties of childhood, is good for the soul. It sweetens the temper, it brightens hope; it increases our love for each other, and our faith in the goodness of God. There are individuals and nations who, from an unhappy state of things, vice in themselves or in other persons, from poverty, or political oppression, never "drink the sweet, nor eat the fat," but drag on a starved and miserable existence. These are not, physically, true specimens of the human being; want is written on the sunken cheek, and wasting despondency cripples the feeble limbs.

Even thus the mental starvation from all the sweet joys of social intercourse and innocent merry-making, has a wasting and deforming effect upon human character, similar to bad or insufficient diet on the bodily constitution. God intended that all our faculties should, in the right way, be exercised; and neglect of such exercise changes us to incomplete creatures. One has but a lame existence who has lost or neglected to cultivate "the store that nature to her votary yields." Our busy, wealth seeking people require to have days of national festivity, when the fashion and the custom will call them to the feast of love and thanksgiving.

So we agree with the large majority of the governors of different States, that THE LAST THURSDAY IN NOVEMBER should be the DAY OF NATIONAL THANKSGIVING for the American people. Let this day, from this time forth, as long as our Banner of Stars floats on the breeze, be the grand THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY of our nation, when the noise and tumult of worldliness may be exchanged for the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart.

Consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place of plenty and rejoicing. These seasons of refreshing are of inestimable advantage to the popular heart; and, if rightly managed, will greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling. Let the people of all the States and Territories set down together to the "feast of fat things" and drink, in the sweet draught of joy and gratitude to the Divine giver of all our blessings, the pledge of renewed love to the Union, and to each other; and of peace and good-will to all the world. Then the last Thursday in November will soon become the day of AMERICAN THANKSGIVING throughout the world.

October 1858

THANKSGIVING DAY.--The last Thursday in November falls, this year, on the twenty-fifth. May we not hope that our nation will unite, on this day, in keeping the festival? The Governors of the States and Territories might, by uniting on this day, make the year memorable in our annals to the end of time. Will not the editors of newspapers lead the way in this union of hearts, at our national festival? Then the last Thursday in November would soon come to be considered the American's Thanksgiving Day, and wherever our countrymen dwelt the day would be a festival.

November, 1858

OUR NATIONAL THANKSGIVING.

"All the blessings of the fields,
All the stores the garden yields,
All the plenty summer pours,
Autumn's rich, o'erflowing stores,
Peace, prosperity, and health,
Private bliss and public wealth,
Knowledge with its gladdening streams,
Pure religion's holier beams--
Lord, for these our souls shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise."

We are most happy to agree with the large majority of the governors of the different States--as shown in their unanimity of action for several past years, and which, we hope, will this year be adopted by all--that the LAST THURSDAY IN NOVEMBER shall be the DAY OF NATIONAL THANKSGIVING for the American people. Let this day, from this time forth, as long as our Banner of Stars floats on the breeze, be the grand THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY of our nation, when the noise and tumult of worldliness may be exchanged for the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart. This truly American Festival falls, this year, on the twenty-fifth day of this month.

Consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place of plenty and rejoicing. These seasons of refreshing are of inestimable advantage to the popular heart; and, if rightly managed, will greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling. Let the people of all the States and Territories sit down together to the "feast of fat things" and drink, in the sweet draught of joy and gratitude to the Divine giver of all our blessings, the pledge of renewed love to the Union, and to each other; and of peace and good-will to all men. Then the last Thursday in November will soon become the day of AMERICAN THANKSGIVING throughout the world.



September 1860

THANKSGIVING--the new National Holiday.--We must advert once more to this grand object of nationalizing Thanksgiving Day, by adopting, as a permanent rule, the last Thursday in November in all the States. Last year, 1859, thirty States and three Territories held Thanksgiving on the same day--the last Thursday in November. This year we hope that every State and Territory will be included in the list. Last year this Thanksgiving was observed by the American residents in Paris, Berlin, and Berne; in the last two cities the American ministers to Switzerland and Prussia took the leading part in the festivities. Thanksgiving was also held on board two of the American squadrons, that of the Mediterranean and the African; and, moreover, several of the American missionary establishments in foreign lands have signified their willingness to set apart the day named.

This year the last Thursday in November falls on the 29th. If all the States and Territories hold their Thanksgiving on that day, there will be a complete moral and social reunion of the people of America in 1860. Would not this be a good omen for the perpetual political union of the States? May God grant us not only the omen, but the fulfillment is our dearest wish!