This year’s holidays are more normal than those of last year, before the arrival of the Covid vaccines. But it remains unusual for many families, involving a combination of antigen testing, alfresco dining (where weather permits), and underlying anxiety.
With that in mind, my colleagues and I have provided a brief history of Thanksgiving celebrations since the 1850s, focusing on unusual years like this. Later in today’s newsletter, you’ll also find last-minute cooking tips, holiday TV suggestions and more.
However you are spending the day, we hope it is a good day. We want to specifically thank two groups of people: first, to everyone who works today (including our colleagues who publish The Times and deliver the print edition); and, second, to all of you – The Morning readers. Thank you for devoting time in your day to this newsletter.
In the beginning
The first appearance of the word “thanksgiving” in the Times digital archives – which dates back to 1851 – did not refer to the holiday. Rather, it was a reference on October 4, 1851, to “a proper prayer and thanksgiving” by a Reverend at the opening of the annual Queens County Farm Show.
“Thursday was quite a jubilee in the pleasant village of Jamaica, Long Island,” wrote an anonymous reporter for the New York Daily Times. “The manly and manly appearance of the farmers, and the freshness, delicacy and true natural beauty of their wives and daughters, (for whom the county is justly renowned,) were sights to rejoice and amaze the citizen, and many were there to witness and appreciate them.
The first mention of the holiday came less than a week later, in a brief newspaper article reporting that the governor of Massachusetts declared Thursday, November 27, 1851, “a day of thanksgiving and public praise.” There was no national Thanksgiving holiday at the time.
As other states announced when they would also observe the holidays that year, The Times printed an infographic – of questionable value – on October 31, 1851:
Local becomes national
The Thanksgiving origin story that is often told in school – of a friendly meal between Pilgrims and Native Americans – is inaccurate. (As early as 1974, The Times ran an article describing the holiday as a “national day of mourning” for many Indigenous people.)
The true origin of the national holiday goes back to Abraham Lincoln. On October 3, 1863, he called on the country, “in the midst of a civil war of unparalleled breadth and severity,” to reserve the last Thursday in November as “Thanksgiving Day.” The Times ran its Thanksgiving proclamation on the front page, and several times thereafter.
While reciting the country’s many blessings – a productive economy, a bountiful harvest, and a growing economy – Lincoln also urged Americans to give thanks “with humble penance for our national evil and disobedience.”
Lincoln’s proclamation was in part a response to Sarah Josepha Hale, an editor who had spent decades campaigning for a national day of gratitude.
A forgotten pandemic
Like this year’s version, Thanksgiving in 1918 occurred in the midst of a global pandemic. But the atmosphere was surprisingly happy. World War I ended on November 11 and the country was celebrating, despite a horrific number of flu deaths in October. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the Times articles contained relatively few mentions of the so-called Spanish flu.
“Thanksgiving Day this year will evoke a deeper gratitude, a more devout spirit of reverence than America has felt for many years,” a Times editorial said on Nov. 19.
One factor may have been that the pandemic briefly receded in November, before reappearing at the end of the year. As has happened in the past two years, a virus has ebbed and circulated in mysterious ways.
Depression and recovery
In 1930, the mood of the country was much darker. A front page headline on Thanksgiving Day that year read: “450 tons of food given to needy, but supply fails.” Police turned back elderly men and women to save food for families with young children.
The Times also reported that the Thanksgiving tradition of ragamuffins – in which children dressed and went door to door asking for coins or treats – seemed to be fading in Manhattan. “Things are not the way they used to be,” said a police officer.
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to jumpstart the economy by moving Thanksgiving a week earlier in order to extend the Christmas shopping season. Critics scoffed at the policy as “Franchise,” and it failed. Roosevelt announced in 1941 that he was abandoning the experiment for the following year.
Roosevelt finally settled in on the fourth Thursday of the month – a middle ground that ensured the holidays didn’t come later than November 28, and Christmas shopping could still start in November.
Thanksgiving in 1963 came just six days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and most public celebrations were canceled. The Macy’s parade was an exception, The Times reported, as organizers believed its cancellation would be “a disappointment for millions of children.”
The Kennedys reunited at the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., But skipped their usual touch football game. “Like millions of other Americans, they will give the children the day and together mourn their loss,” the Times wrote.
The isolation of 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic arguably caused a bigger break in Thanksgiving traditions than anything that came before. Since the Lincoln Proclamation, even during war, depression and tragedy, most Americans still found ways to get together with family and friends for a festive meal.
But the threat of a pandemic – better understood in 2020 than it was in 1918 – prompted many to stay at home last year.
Today will be different. The pandemic is not over, but the worst almost certainly is. Vaccines have allowed most Americans to assemble safely.
The country is hardly in a happy mood. Even though people are happy to be together again, many mourn the losses of the past two years and are deeply concerned for the future of the country. Yet mixed feelings have also been part of Thanksgiving tradition since Lincoln’s proclamation.
More on the holidays: For Rafael Alvarez – a writer for “The Wire” – today is the occasion to remember his father’s knife and his parents’ dreams of Baltimore.
THE LAST NEWS
The Arbery case
Rich: Kanye West designed a jacket for Gap. It makes you famous.
Ranking: Vote for the best book of the past 125 years.
Ethical issues: What should a reader with a large inheritance do?
Lives lived: Margo Guryan recorded an album in the 1960s, but it didn’t find an audience until the late 1990s. “People say I was rediscovered,” she said at the time. . “It is not true – I have been discovered.” Guryan died at the age of 84.
ARTS AND IDEAS
The parade today
Macy’s Thanksgiving parade last year did not have its typical pageantry. Due to the pandemic, there were no spectators, the route spanned a single block and thousands fewer participants marched.
This year, the parade is almost finished: approximately 6,500 people will work there, compared to 960 last year. The number of giant balloons and floats is back to roughly where it was two years ago. And 10 bands, many of which were unable to travel last year, will fill the streets.
There is a caveat: no child under 12 will participate. Everyone in the parade must be fully immunized, but children aged 5 to 11 were eligible for their first vaccines just a few weeks ago. (They can still watch; spectators do not have to be vaccinated.)
Their absence will be curious in an event whose stars have included Pikachu, SpongeBob SquarePants and Shrek. “This year, young people waving floats will be vaccinated between tweens and teens – so viewers may perhaps expect less pure joy and wide-eyed wonder,” writes Julia Jacobs of The Times.
The televised parade will feature the Rockettes, Carrie Underwood, Mickey Guyton, Kristin Chenoweth, Jon Batiste and Nelly. It starts at 9 a.m. EST, and you can watch it on NBC, Telemundo, or the Peacock streaming service. – Sanam Yar, a morning writer
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to cook