Saturday, November 28, 2009

To Give Thanks

Yesterday was one of the greatest of American holidays: Thanksgiving Day.

Though it was originally similar to, and may in fact be derived from, European harvest festivals.  Its a day that has truly become a signature American Event.  Though Canada might try to claim the first Thanksgiving (I know, its just so adorable of them to think they're that big), lets be honest, America had the first real Thanksgiving and we know how to do it right.

First, lets look at the places who have an official, annual, State-Declared Thanksgiving Day.  Grenada celebrates their annual Thanksgivng Day holiday on October 25.  They have it to celebrate and commemorate the anniversary of the American-led invasion of the island in 1983.  Then, we sent in the military, along with some coalition forces, to respond to levels of unrest after the deposition and execution of Grenadan Prime Minister (though he actually rulled the country more like a dictator would - along the lines of 'free' Iran) Maurice Bishop.  There's still disagreement about whether we should have engaged, but the country has a holiday to selebrate that action, so you're welcome Grenada.

The Canadian version is the second Monday in October.  Before they had a regular date, they used to just declare it for whaterver reason they felt was appropriate.  Like if Canadia wins the Olympic Hockey Gold Medal, or scientists declare an overpopulation of moose and hunting season gets extended, or the national dealership says there's a sale on Zambonis, or whatever it is that floats Canadian boats.  Now, its just a nationalized harvest festival where you're supposed to be greatful for the bounty of harvest the lands of Canada yielded.  Weak.

Though there had been thanksgiving days and celebrations in America since 1619, and though what we modern Americans regard as the 'First Thanksgiving' was celebrated in 1621, it was quite some time before we got a National Thanksgiving Day.  Periodically, throughout the years, leaders of American colonial settlements proclaimed days of Thanksgiving - but they were not regular declarations, though often they were to commemorate some sort of victory in armed conflict, having survived and come out of a particularly harsh winter, or (of course) an especially bountiful harvest season.

The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving in America was given by the Continental Congress in the year 1777 to celebrate vicroty over the British in Saratoga (Suck it, England).  Since then, American Presidents would intermidently declare national Days of Thanksgiving until the year 1863.  That year, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November a national Thanksgiving Day.  From then until 1939, each American Presidant took time every year to declare the final Thursday in November a national Thanksgiving Day.

In 1939, because November had 5 Thursdays, President Franklin D Roosevelt declared, not the final, but the fourth Thursday of that month to be national Thanksgiving Day.  Then, in 1940 and 1941 he declared the third Thursday of November to be national Thanksgiving Day.  I'm sure that at this time they didnt have presidantial approval ratings, but FDR was just trying to stimulate the economy (how oddly relevant).  Because, at the time, advertising for Christmas sales was considered so crass and classless to do before Thanksgiving, FDR thought that by moving up the date of the Thanksgiving Holiday (seriously, where did those days go), retailers would experience greater sales due to increased time for Christmas marketing campaigns.  Apparently, there was such an uproar that on October 6, 1941, Congress signed a joint resolution making Thanksgiving Day the final Thursday of November starting the next year, 1942.  There was a little bit of unhappiness about that so in December, the Senate made it ammended the resolution so that the fourth Thursday of November (no matter whether the month had 4 or 5 Thursdays), beginning in 1942, would be Thanksgiving Day.  On December 26, 1941, the President signed the bill and since then, the occurance of Thanksgiving Day in America was federal law.  Dig that.

Over time, the celebration of Thanksgiving Day was morphed and become a sort of hybrid occurance that encompases and elevates many aspects of our daily indivudual and collective lives.  Thanksgiving Days used to be religious celebrations, often tied to being greatful for a bountiful harvest.  Now, the religious portion of Thanksgiving is almost wholly put to the side; the aspect of plentiful and delicious foodstuffs is still a primary aspect of the holiday; but the current methods of celebration would not be recognized by the settlers of Plymoth.

For out modern Thanksgivings, we have the build-up to Black Friday and the anticipation of the Chirstmas shopping season.  We have sporting events, where we watch athletes more skilled than most of us could ever dream of being, matched in battles of physical accomplishments.  We have Turducken, and I think that stands on its own.  But something that has not failed to carry through, which I think our settling ancesters would be tickled pink to still see, is that the idea of being thankful and greatful is still what makes the holiday.

I hope that everyone took some time yesterday to realize that even though all our days may not reach perfection, and though we may not always be satisfied with what we might have, there are usually many things we can and should all be thankful for.

So, Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  Remember, you're supposed to give thanks and be greatful for what you have and what you've been able to attain.  Afterall, its been federal law since 1942.  Happy Thanksgiving Day!

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