21 November 2007

Thanksgiving in America

Roasting Fowl
There are many traditions that Americans will celebrate. Most are rooted in myth, but even these myths are rooted in history. A letter by Edward Winslow offers the best description of the feast celebrated by Pilgrims and Indians together that is memorialized in most people's image of the original event.
"Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted. And they went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor and upon the Captain and others."
Edward Winslow to _?_ 11 Dec 1621. As quoted in William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, notes by Samuel Eliot Morison, 1952.
There was a long process leading to the memory of this event as a holiday.

A Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln dated 3 October 1863, set forth a holiday the last Thursday of November. Two years earlier he had given government employees a holiday, 28 November 1861.

Prior to Lincoln's proclamation, George Washington declared 26 November 1789 as "A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer" in a decree signed 3 October 1789.

Before Washington, the Charlestown, Massachusetts town Council on 20 June 1676 set aside 29 June of the same year as "a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God."

The modern American holiday reflects a continuity that goes back to Lincoln's proclamation, although the roots are deeper.


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