The True Meaning of Thanksgiving
by Jeff Hopkins, on 11/27/13 8:00 AM
Thanksgiving is about more than turkey, football, and doorbuster deals
Consider giving thanks by giving of your time and/or resources to Second Harvest Food Bank. Their mission is to provide food to people in need in our community.
What is thanksgiving?
The dictionary definition is the act of expressing gratitude. For some, that involves the divine for others it is simply a heartfelt acknowledgement that life is good and it is not all our own doing. Today, in the United States, Thanksgiving is a national holiday that is held on the fourth Thursday in November.
A little history
There is a lot more to the story and even on-going debate about the true origin of Thanksgiving. Was it the 1621 celebration (the traditional Plymouth Plantation story that involved Native Americans and Pilgrims that most of us learned in elementary school) or the 1623 celebration that occurred after a nearly catastophic drought (which was likely the first civil recognition of Thanksgiving in New England). Either way, one of the more famous stories was the radical hospitality displayed by the Native American Wampanoag leader Massasoit who donated food stores to the fledgling Plymouth colony during the first winter when supplies they had brought from England were not enough to sustain them through winter. What would motivate Massasoit and his people to give so generously?
Why a Thursday in November?
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. "I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them ...commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union." This established Thanksgiving as a national holiday for the first time, and it was observed nationally in the United States from then on.
Why the fourth Thursday?
In 1939, during the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt broke with tradition (since 1863 each President declared the last Thursday in November, Thanksgiving), and moved Thanksgiving to the next to last Thursday in November (which happened to be the fourth Thursday since there were five Thursdays in November 1939). Why did he move it forward? The same reason "Black Friday" has been creeping into Thankgiving night the last several years -- to expand the holiday shopping season. In the midst of the Great Depression, Roosevelt hoped the extra week of Christmas shopping would spur the economy. Back then, it was considered bad form to advertise sales on goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving. In an effort to gain politcal advantage, the Republicans (the party of Lincoln) were outraged by this break with tradition and began calling it "Franksgiving". In 1941, Congress settled on a compromise and with Roosevelt's signature, the fourth Thursday (usually the last and sometimes the second to last Thursday) in November became the official Thanksgiving day from then on.
Thanksgiving and American football
Believe it or not, football on Thanksgiving is not a product of the NFL marketing machine, but dates back to the late 1800s, maybe even within weeks of the first real game of football in 1869. Princeton and Yale played each other on Thanksgiving in 1876. The NFL has perfected Thanksgiving football starting with John Madden's 1989 Turkey Leg Award given to the MVP of the game. Now, there are three NFL games on Thanksgiving for us turkey and football gluttons.
This Thanksgiving, in between turkey, football, and doorbuster shopping deals, how could you and I show radical hospitality to people outside of our family and friend circles like Massasoit and his people? Most of us have more than we need. One easy way to give this time of year is to donate a jacket. When you get a new coat, donate one that is in your closet that has not been worn in the last year to One Warm Coat. This season is full of opportunities to give thankfully, and perhaps that could be the true meaning of Thanksgiving.