Thanksgiving traditions have evolved

From the early days of our nation, Americans have taken time each fall to offer thanks and reflect on the blessings they have received in the previous year.

President George Washington, at the request of Congress, issued a proclamation in 1789 designating a day of thanks. The holiday was celebrated on and off until 1863, When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

Most people believe that the Thanksgiving tradition began years before, in 1621, when a group of 53 British settlers in New England celebrated that year’s harvest, along with 90 Native Americans. But even before that, settlers from Spain and France held Thanksgiving services and a group of British settlers in Virginia held a thanksgiving in 1610. Other colonies also celebrated the holiday as settlement in the New World grew.

In the late 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving proclamation moved the holiday to the Fourth Thursday of November, at the urging of Macy’s Department Store, which hoped to add a week to the Christmas shopping season. In subsequent years in which there were four Thursdays in November, Roosevelt designated the third Thursday as Thanksgiving. Finally, beginning in 1942, Congress passed a compromise law, designating the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving. Some states, however, continued celebrating the holiday on thelast Thursday. Eventually, all of them switched to the Federal holiday, the last being Texas, which last celebrated the fifth Thursday in 1956.

Today, Americans celebrate the holiday in many ways. The most common celebration is the large family meal, featuring turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Many will celebrate by watching football on TV. For years, Dallas and Detroit have traditionally hosted NFL games on Thanksgiving Day (this year, our Minnesota Vikings will be in Detroit for the traditional game). Some families will take time to look over the many newspaper ads that will be in that week’s newspaper and make plans for Christmas shopping, as the season traditionally begins on the day after Thanksgiving.

Some large big box stores recently have moved the holiday shopping season forward, choosing to open on Thanksgiving Day with special bargains intended to draw shoppers. There has been a bit of a pushback against this practice, however retailers have decided they need to be open in order to compete with on-line retailers. There are some holdouts, though, with many stressing in their ads that they choose to let their employees stay at home and celebrate with their families.

Our family has had to change its traditions over the years. With Jenny working as a nurse, we often had to shift the time of our Thanksgiving meal to meet her schedule. Regardless of the schedule, we were always able to gather with family and enjoy the day, with one exception. When living in Rochester, Jenny was scheduled to work until 3 p.m., and we planned to drive to New Prague for a late Thanksgiving meal with our family. However a big snowstorm hit the Rochester area and we chose not to travel. With stores closed, we couldn’t go out and buy a turkey dinner, and most of the restaurants in Rochester were closed and those that had Thanksgiving dinners had them earlier in the day. We found a downtown hotel that was offering a Thanksgiving meal that evening and went there. The place was mostly empty, but we were able to enjoy a traditional meal and we were thankful we had each other. That, I believe, was the only time we didn’t have a home-cooked family meal.

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate the holiday, the staff at The New Prague Times wishes everyone a Blessed Thanksgiving.

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