On Thursday, November 24, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. All things considered, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the food, the football, and the four-day weekend. What I don’t like is the traveling. Regardless of which mode of transportation one uses – roads, air or rail – one has to expect delays, cancellations and frustration. And that does not account for inclement weather, which exacerbates the situation.
Traveling by car? In my experience, regardless of which day and what time you travel, you can’t avoid the traffic snarls. You just have to hope (or pray) for the best. (I have found you can mitigate traffic delays by relying on a good GPS, such as Waze.)
Traveling by air? Be prepared for overcrowded airports, overbooked, delayed and/or cancelled flights and surly people. Traveling by rail is not much better. Don’t be surprised if there are incidents of violence among passengers and/or airline and rail personnel. With COVID in the rearview for most people AAA is predicting that some 54.6 million Americans will be traveling more than 50 miles from home over the TG weekend. This will be just about at the pre-pandemic level. People will be stressed, and tempers will be short. But, for most people the positives of the holiday outweigh these negatives.
If you must travel, it will behoove you to follow common sense guidelines, such as:
- Book your reservations early.
- Avoid travelling during peak periods .
- Arrive at the airport or train station early.
- Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Traditionally, TG is a time when extended families gather together to celebrate in large groups. People travel to spend the holiday with relatives that they only see a few times a year. They stoically endure the abovementioned negatives. They don’t like them, but they recognize it is part of the deal. Many people have Friday, Monday and part of Wednesday off from work, and they are able to make a mini-vacation out of the holiday. In the US some of the traditional activities include parades, football (watching on tv or playing), and, of course, shopping.
Many cities and towns hold parades. The biggest and best is the Macy’s Parade in NYC, which is televised live and streamed. Kids love the floats, and many parents and grandparents who accompany them reminisce of when they, themselves, attended as kids with their parents.
To many, the holiday is synonymous with football. Football games are played at every level, including pickup games, high school, college, and, of course, the NFL. The first TG professional football game was in 1920. For you trivia buffs, Akron beat Canton 7-0. The Detroit Lions have been hosting a TG football game since 1934. This year we will be treated to three NFL games Quiz question: Which is the only NFL team that has never played in a TG football game? See answer below.
No holiday celebration would be complete without shopping. The day after TG has become known as “Black Friday.” Many merchants open extra early and offer huge discounts. Some are beneficial while others are nothing more than “come-ons.” Be prepared for long lines, frustration and rude people.
As we enjoy the holiday, few of us will stop to think of its origins and meaning. What are they? Why is it celebrated at this time of the year? Read on for the answers.
Thanksgiving is a national holiday originally celebrated to give thanks for the year’s harvest. It has strong religious and cultural roots. Most people are aware that Thanksgiving is celebrated in the US (4th Thursday in November) and Canada (2nd Monday in October), but few of us are aware that variations of it are observed in other countries as well. In these other countries the holiday has a different meaning and purpose.
For example, in Grenada it is celebrated on October 25, and it marks the date on which the US invaded the island in 1983 in response to the removal and execution of Grenada’s then Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop. Liberia celebrates the holiday on the first Thursday of November, a tradition that was originated by freed American slaves that were transported there. In the Netherlands a Thanksgiving Day service is held on the morning of the US holiday. Its purpose is to commemorate the traditions of the Pilgrims, who resided in the city of Leiden for several years prior to their emigration to the New World. Japan celebrates a “Labor Thanksgiving Day” on November 23 to commemorate labor and production. It has its roots in the period of American occupation after WWII.
Like many of our customs and traditions, Thanksgiving is rooted in English traditions. These date from the English Reformation in the 16th century and the reign of King Henry VIII. Apparently, the Protestant clergy had determined that events of misfortune or good fortune were attributable to God. Thus, unexpected disasters, such as droughts, floods or plagues, were followed by “Days of Fasting.” On the other hand, fortuitous events, such as a good harvest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which actually was largely attributable to storms off the English coast, were to be celebrated by “giving thanks” to Him.
The origin of the Canadian holiday is uncertain, but it is most commonly attributed to the English explorer Martin Frobisher. He had been exploring Northern Canada seeking the infamous and elusive Northwest Passage to Asia. He wanted to give thanks for his party having survived the numerous storms and icebergs it had encountered on the long journey from England. Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated as a statutory holiday in most jurisdictions of Canada.
Most people trace the American Thanksgiving holiday to 1621 in present-day Massachusetts (although some claim that there were earlier celebrations by the Spaniards in present-day Florida circa 1565 and in the colony of Virginia circa 1610). The Pilgrims and Puritans living in MA had enjoyed a bountiful harvest that year and wanted to give thanks. Their harvest had been partly attributable to assistance from Native Americans, so they invited them to share in their celebration. Records indicate that there were 90 Native Americans and 25 colonists in attendance. The actual date is uncertain, but it is believed to have been between September 21 and November 11.
Prior to 1942, Thanksgiving was not celebrated as an official national holiday. Rather, it was celebrated periodically by proclamation. For example, during the Revolutionary War the Continental Congress established days of “prayer, humiliation and thanksgiving” each year. In 1777 George Washington proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the colonists’ victory at Saratoga. Following independence, various Presidents continued the practice of issuing proclamations periodically.
In 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed a national “Thanksgiving Day” to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. Historians believe that his action was prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer and editor of some renown. (She wrote the popular nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”).
The practice of annual Presidential Proclamations continued until 1939. That year, FDR broke the tradition. November had five Thursdays that year instead of the usual four. FDR figured that if the holiday were celebrated on the 4th Thursday it would provide a much-needed boost to the economy by enabling merchants to sell more goods before Christmas. (Even then, Thanksgiving was the unofficial start of the Christmas holiday shopping season.) Typically, this action precipitated a spat between the GOP and Dems in Congress. GOP congressmen viewed it as an insult to President Lincoln and continued to consider the last Thursday to be the holiday, so there were two Thanksgiving celebrations in 1939, 1940 and 1941, a “Democrat” one on the 4th Thursday and a “Republican” one on the last Thursday. The individual states split the dates (only in America!).
Finally, in 1941 everyone got in sync. On December 26, 1941 FDR signed a bill into law that decreed that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November, a practice that has continued to this day.
Beginning in 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented a live turkey to the President. Over the years it has become customary for the President to grant a “pardon” to a turkey. This year, President Biden pardoned two turkeys. According to the Washington Post their names were…..wait for it…..Chocolate and Chip. No comment.
Enjoy the holiday, and if you’re traveling stay safe!
Quiz answer: Jacksonville Jaguars