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home : opinion : columnist December 12, 2019

11/25/2019 4:31:00 PM
Guest Column
Thanksgiving: The Middle-Child Holiday

Tammy Wilson
Guest Columnist

Poor Thanksgiving! Like a middle child, it languishes between two legendary partiers: Halloween and Christmas. Thanksgiving can scarcely compete.

American history teaches us that in 1621 the Plymouth Colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared the first Thanksgiving feast together to celebrate the harvest. Well, actually it was a three-day celebration

But don’t tell that to the docents at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia. Folks there say the First Thanksgiving took place along the James River after a band of British settlers arrived on Dec. 4, 1619. That 13-month jump on things gave Virginia the claim to the First Thanksgiving. So much for those upstart Pilgrims! But the fact that settlers of both colonies—and the 11 others--celebrated Thanksgiving at various times reflects on the religious heritage of our founders.

Being grateful for God’s blessings is in the American DNA, it seems.

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In 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation, calling upon Americans to express thanks for the joyful conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanks.

But leave is up to a woman to push for a true national holiday. Sarah Josepha Hale, author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” worked for more than 36 years, writing editorials and contacting officials to give Thanksgiving its rightful place on the national calendar.

North Carolina’s General Assembly agreed to a joint resolution to declare Thanksgiving a statewide holiday in 1849. A year before, Gov. William Graham had declared, Thanksgiving to be ”a season for kind, social sentiment—for the forgiveness of injuries—for acts of good neighborhood and especially for the charitable remembrance of the Poor.“

It was Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed the last Thursday in November to be the national day to observe Thanksgiving. During the darkest hours of the Civil War, Lincoln proclaimed the holiday to be the last Thursday of November. That year it was observed on Nov. 26, a mere week after Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, a speech to help dedicate the cemetery for the fallen.

Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday in November until 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. The change was met with much opposition that two years later the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Thanksgiving was a true shut-down holiday. Weeks before the event, my mother and my Aunt O planned the menu for our combined families: always roasted turkey, oyster dressing, slaw and green beans. The cranberry sauce (homemade, never out of a can) was served in a glass bowl.

After the meal, we drew names for our family gift exchange, with the first shopping being that weekend. The feast was always served as the mid-day meal after Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ended and the bowl games began. No one considered dining out for Thanksgiving; all the restaurants were closed.

Nobody would have considered shopping, either. Thanksgiving was the next thing to a high holy day, and still is, to those who resist the temptation to squeeze the observance into an hour or two—the dining part. Retail and sports claim the rest.

Still, there are some who consider Thanksgiving as something other than a shotgun start to the Christmas spending binge.

Like 17th century settlers, some still pause to thank the Almighty, and you can be one of them. Community Thanksgiving services are held at various houses of worship throughout Catawba County. One such service will be held Thanksgiving Eve in Newton at First United Methodist Church at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Corinth United Church of Christ in Hickory will host a community service at 10 am Thursday, Nov. 28. All are welcome. 

---Tammy Wilson is a writer from Newton. Message her at

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