Thanks­giv­ing Day: A mon­u­ment to a na­tion

Here’s to a hol­i­day that helped res­cue the U.S. from its own self-de­struc­tion

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - WORLD - By Ja­cob Shapiro

honor a coun­try.

Thanks­giv­ing was cre­ated to help res­cue the U.S. from its own self-de­struc­tion. It did so by con­tribut­ing to the cre­ation of an Amer­i­can na­tion, and its con­tin­ued and en­thu­si­as­tic cel­e­bra­tion is a mea­sure of its suc­cess.

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The Thanks­giv­ing Myth

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Many Amer­i­cans will balk at the sug­ges­tion that Thanks­giv­ing does not cel­e­brate a spe­cific event. In grade school, most young Amer­i­cans are told the same story about what Thanks­giv­ing com­mem­o­rates. The story takes us back to 1621, the year af­ter the Pil­grims made land­fall in the New World. The Pil­grims had suf­fered ter­ri­bly dur­ing their first win­ter.

When spring came, a Na­tive Amer­i­can tribe taught the Old World im­mi­grants how to plant crops such as corn that were suit­able to the cli­mate. Af­ter the first har­vest, the Pil­grims in­vited the Na­tives to take part in a great feast with them in the spirit of peace and brother­hood.

It’s easy to see why this story ap­peals to Amer­i­cans, who have al­ways had to rec­on­cile the pride they have for their coun­try with the fact that its cre­ation meant the dis­place­ment of oth­ers. And as it turns out, an event like the Pil­grim feast prob­a­bly did oc­cur; a man named Ed­ward Winslow wrote an ac­count of the feast in 1622. But whether the feast occurred is not the point. The point is that the feast was not the in­spi­ra­tion for Thanks­giv­ing. The ori­gin of the mis­con­cep­tion was the work of a his­to­rian named Rev­erend Alexan­der Young, whose ac­tive imag­i­na­tion led him to as­sert with­out ev­i­dence in 1841 that the feast in 1621 was the first Thanks­giv­ing.

If the hol­i­day didn’t come from the Pil­grim myth, then where did it come from? The an­swer to this ques­tion has two parts, and both are im­por­tant for un­der­stand­ing what Thanks­giv­ing States to­day.

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From Lo­cal Cus­tom to Na­tional Hol­i­day

Amer­i­cans think of Thanks­giv­ing as a day that comes once a year. This has been true only since 1941, when Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt signed a law that fixed the date of Thanks­giv­ing as the fourth Thurs­day in Novem­ber. But it was Calvin­ist prin­ci­ples, which the first settlers of New Eng­land brought with them to the New World, that served as the ori­gin of the Thanks­giv­ing con­cept. Pu­ri­tan the­ol­ogy recog­nised two kinds of days of wor­ship that could be called spon­ta­neously: Thanks­giv­ing days and Fast days. To­day it’s mostly a sec­u­lar hol­i­day, but Thanks­giv­ing had its roots in re­li­gious ob­ser­vance.

Look­ing back through Amer­i­can his­tory, we find nu­mer­ous procla­ma­tions of Thanks­giv­ing and Fast days. James Madi­son was the last U.S. pres­i­dent to de­clare such days un­til Abra­ham Lin­coln, who played a vi­tal role in the story half a cen­tury later. Madi­son de­clared three Fast days dur­ing the War of 1812 and a Thanks­giv­ing Day to mark the war’s con­clu­sion. Pres­i­dents John Adams and Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton also de­clared such days, and both days could be (and were) de­clared from time to time by lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

Over time, as New Eng­land’s Pu­ri­tan roots re­ceded into his­tory, Thanks­giv­ing days trans­formed and spread through­out the coun­try. (Fast days fell by the way­side.) They did not lose their overtly re­li­gious tone, but they be­came days of rest or cel­e­bra­tion as op­posed to days of con­stant wor­ship.

But this only ex­plains where the no­tion of a day of thanks­giv­ing came from; it tells us lit­tle about the an­nual Amer­i­can hol­i­day. The su­per­fi­cial an­swer is that it started in

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