BY CECIL ACUFF
Thanksgiving was once an exclusive Yankee holiday, practiced by every northern state, not on the same day. No southern states participated.
President George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789; it never gained any support by the public. Thomas Jefferson denounced the idea as a monarchial practice unfit for the public.
Nothing more happened concerning the holiday, until July 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln sought ways to show the country’s gratitude for Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
Lincoln had no intention making Thanksgiving an annual event. But when General William Tecumseh Sherman captured Atlanta, GA on his March-To-The-Sea in September 1864, Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a Day of Thanksgiving.
The Pilgrims didn’t eat turkey on the Thankful Day until after the Civil War. Then, the business sectors of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland began promoting turkey as Thanksgiving food after the Civil War. It was more profitable than any other bird at 10 cents per pound.
Isn’t it interesting that many celebratory traditions start with money and profits there from?
The next group of businesses to gain monetarily from Thanksgiving were turn-of-the-century retailers who used the holiday to jump-start Christmas sales. Newspapers began count-down-to-Christmas ads. Philadelphia’s Gimbal’s Department Store held the nation’s first Thanksgiving Parade in 1921. By 1930, department stores across the nation sponsored parades to bring in shoppers.
Some misconceptions about Thanksgiving: The first settlers referred to themselves as Saints, not Pilgrims. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that “Pilgrim” was used to describe Plymouth people.
Otherwise, actor John Wayne would have been saying, “Now, Saints … ?”
The first Thanksgiving wasn’t a religious occasion: there was drinking, gambling, gamboling, athletic games, and target shooting with English rifles.
The Pilgrims didn’t wear buckles on shoes or hats. They ate venison, cod, bass, oysters, clams, Indian corn, native plums, pumpkin pie, and berries. There was no cornbread, beef, milk, cheese, or lobster, which they mistook as very large insects.
The domesticated turkey hardly knows what to eat. It often catches cold, and can die just by getting its feet wet, when it didn’t have enough sense to seek shelter quickly enough. Turkeys are sometimes suffocated when the flock panics in fear.
In days of yore, many tears have been shed by people who carefully nurtured the birds several weeks, only see them die from their innate stupidity. The word turkey, for such reasons, has become slang for any stupid, unwise, worthless, or unsuitable thing or action, since 1930.
Benjamin Franklin believed the turkey should replace the bald eagle as America’s bird. On Jan. 26, 1784, Ben said, “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country … its a bird of bad moral character … like those among men who live by slaying and robbing. It is poor and very lousy. The turkey is a more respectable bird, and a true American native.”
Imagine if Ben had his way. Golfers’ comment: “Hey, did you see that guy make that turkey on par-5 hole #17?” Turkeys seem to be dumb, stupid creatures that know not when to seek shelter from rain or cold.
Inauguration Day, Mar. 4, 1841, was cold, damp, and blustery. Bare-headed ninth President William Henry Harrison gave a long, meandering two-hour speech. Nine days later, half past midnight, April 4, 1841, Harrison became the first U.S. president to die in office. Harrison’s staff showed they were not too swift, either.
Harrison was the grandfather of the 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison – the only such pair in history. May it be assumed, then, that Benjamin did not carry the “Stupid-Turkey-Gene,” of William, his grandfather, who did not know when to seek shelter?
Happy, happy, thankful Thanksgiving – the one holiday of all when families get together. Enjoy games, parades, food, and remain thankful for America, the Beautiful.
“Let there be Peace on Earth … and let it begin with each American!”
– Cecil Acuff lives in Perkins, OK and is an occasional contributor to The Oklahoma Observer