Tuesday, November 24, 2009

thanksgiving according to artman

I was remembering an old nun I had back in grade school. She had a thing for making her students write "themes". Her favorite topics (which she would assign) were "what we did for summer vacations", "the miracles of Jesus" and "holidays".
One year she assigned a theme for "Thanksgiving". . .
I didn't write it and instead faked being sick and got out of school for a few days. (I was not the model inmate) Anyway, as long as the old girl was on my mind, I thought I'd make it up to her.
So here it is Sister Mary Francis, "Thanksgiving according to Artman. . ."

In 1620 a small wooden boat called the Mayflower and 100 or so God fearing folks of the Puritan persuasion, sailed west from Europe toward the Americas. Puritans were a fundamentalist Christian sect who couldn't work and play well with the Anglican English or the Catholic Dutch so they boarded a boat bound for Virginia.

On the way they were blown off course and, as we all know, instead made landfall at Plymouth Massachusetts in the dead of winter where, there in the snow without shelter nor anywhere else to go, very nearly half of their company died of exposure.

By the time spring rolled around, the survivors were hard at work building, planting and developing a dubious friendship with their neighbors, the Wampanoag Indians, without whose friendship they might all have perished. Fortunately for the Puritans, all their hard work through the spring and summer of 1621 paid off and after a bountiful autumn harvest, they celebrated with a Harvest Feast that rocked the house for three days.

(and of course they invited the Indians. . .)

But they couldn’t celebrate every year because in some years the harvests weren’t so good and the next big three day soirĂ©e didn’t happen until June of 1676 at the Charlestown Colony. (in those 55 years Puritanism had become a franchise).
But wait, you might be wondering, how can you have a Harvest Celebration in June? Well, you can't. They were celebrating their military victory over the "heathen natives". So the inspiration for celebrations to give thanks moved from harvests to politics and the next, and first nationwide, thankful celebration was declared in 1777 and all 13 colonies celebrated the Colonial Army's victory over the British at Saratoga.

So, you ask, is that the start of our annual Thanksgiving Celebration? Nope.
After the war everyone got back to the business of fulfilling America's Manifest Destiny and the collective shine for a National Day of Thanksgiving wore off.

The fact is, we wouldn’t have a National Day of Thanksgiving had it not been for Sarah Josepha Hale, the first female magazine editor in America and the author of "Mary had a little lamb".

Her connection to Thanksgiving is a letter writing campaign she commenced in the 1820s. She petitioned Governors, Senators, Congressmen and Presidents encouraging them to proclaim a National Day of Thanksgiving but none of them were interested. Still, Sarah persisted and through the 1830s, 40s, and 50s, her letters just kept on coming.

Finally, in 1863 with the Civil War not going so well for the north, Abraham Lincoln thought, “hmmm, it might be a good idea for all the people to have something to celebrate” and he proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of every November. That was the start of Thanksgiving for the likes of you and me.

By the time the twentieth century rolled in, the face of the American landscape had changed. There was industry, more people lived in cities than on farms and mass communications were better. Thanksgiving, and the way we celebrate it began to take shape. In 1932, the depths of the great depression, FDR had an idea. . .
Since Thanksgiving was already thought of as the official start of the holiday gift buying season, let’s move it forward one week to the third Thursday in November and add another week to the buying frenzy to stimulate the economy. Well, that idea didn't sit well with most folks (a Democrat overruling Lincoln? The audacity. . .) and it became known as “Franksgiving”. Finally, by an act of Congress in 1941, Thanksgiving was permanently moved back to the fourth Thursday in November.

So the table was set, Thanksgiving with all it’s myths and traditions laid out and ready to go. . . Pilgrims and Indians, turkey with stuffing, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, Macy’s Parade and Alice’s Restaurant Massacree. . .
All future generations would have to do was enjoy the day off and make it better.

. . .But, but wait! What about football? (I knew you'd ask)

In 1934, a sports writer named George Richards bought the Detroit Lions but, back then, baseball was still America’s game and with the Tigers in town, filling the stadium was a problem. So Richards devised a scheme. . .
He invited the Chicago Bears to Detroit to play on Thanksgiving and, not only that, he convinced the NBC network to broadcast the game nationwide.

. . .and the rest, as they say, is history.

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