Happy Thanksgiving Day.
This year’s holiday is more normal than last year, before the Covid vaccines were introduced. But this is still unusual for many families and includes some combination of antigen tests, outdoor food (weather permitting), and latent anxiety.
With this in mind, my colleagues and I have compiled a short history of Thanksgiving celebrations since the 1850s, focusing on extraordinary years like this one. Further down in today’s newsletter, you’ll also find last-minute cooking tips, holiday TV suggestions, and more.
No matter how you spend your day, we hope you have a good day. We want to express special thanks to two groups of people: first, everyone who works today (including our colleagues who run The Times and distribute the print edition); and, secondly, to all of you – readers of “Morning”. We are grateful for your time for this newsletter.
At the beginning
The first appearance of the word “thanksgiving” in the digital archives of The Times, dating from 1851, did not refer to a holiday. Instead, on October 4, 1851, it was a reference to “appropriate prayer and thanksgiving” from the reverend at the opening of the Queens County Annual Agricultural Show.
“Thursday was a real jubilee in a pleasant village in Jamaica, Long Island,” wrote an unnamed reporter for The New York Daily Times. “The ruddy, manly appearance of the farmers, and the freshness, tenderness, and sheer natural beauty of their wives and daughters (for whom the county is famous) were attractions that cheered and wowed the townspeople, and many came here to witness and enjoy them.”
The holiday was first mentioned less than a week later in a short news report that reported that the Governor of Massachusetts had declared Thursday, November 27, 1851, “a day of public thanksgiving and praise.” There was no national Thanksgiving holiday at that time.
As other states announced, when they would also celebrate the holiday that year, The Times printed an infographic of dubious value on October 31, 1851:
Local becomes national
The story of the origin of Thanksgiving, which is often told in school – a friendly meal between pilgrims and Native Americans – is inaccurate. (Back in 1974, The Times published an article describing the holiday as a “national day of mourning” for many indigenous people.)
The true origins of the national holiday date back to Abraham Lincoln. On October 3, 1863, he called on the country, “in the midst of a civil war of incomparable strength and scope,” to declare the last Thursday of November “Thanksgiving Day.” The Times published his Thanksgiving proclamation on the front page and several times thereafter.
Talking about the country’s many blessings – a productive economy, bountiful harvests and a growing economy – Lincoln also recommended that Americans thank “with humble repentance for our national perversion and disobedience.”
Lincoln’s proclamation was in part a response to Sarah Joseph Hale, editor who campaigned for decades for National Thanksgiving Day.
Like this year, Thanksgiving in 1918 happened in the midst of a global pandemic. But the atmosphere was surprisingly joyful. World War I ended on November 11, and the country celebrated despite a horrific number of flu deaths in October. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, there was relatively little mention of the so-called Spanish flu in Times articles.
“Thanksgiving this year will evoke deeper gratitude, a deeper spirit of awe than America has felt in many years,” reads the November 19 Times editorial.
One factor may have been that the pandemic retreated briefly in November and then intensified again at the end of the year. As has happened in the past two years, the virus has mysteriously appeared and disappeared.
Depression and recovery
By 1930, the mood in the country was much darker. The headline on the front page of Thanksgiving that year read: “450 tons of food given to those in need, but not enough.” Police refused to allow older men and women to reserve food for families with small children.
The Times also reported that the tradition of ragamuffins’ Thanksgiving, where children dressed and walked door to door asking for coins or treats, is slowly disappearing in Manhattan. “It’s not the same as it used to be,” said the policeman.
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to ignite the economy by moving Thanksgiving a week early to extend the Christmas shopping season. Critics ridiculed the policy as “giving out francs” and it failed. In 1941, Roosevelt announced that he was abandoning the experiment for the next year.
Roosevelt ended up settling on the fourth Thursday of the month – a sweet spot that ensured that the holiday didn’t come later than November 28 and that Christmas shopping could always start in November.
Thanksgiving in 1963 came just six days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and most of the public celebrations were canceled. Macy’s parade was an exception, according to The Times, as organizers believed that canceling it would be “a disappointment for millions of children.”
The Kennedy gathered at the family plot in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, but missed out on their regular touchscreen soccer game. “Like millions of other Americans, they will give the day to their children and mourn their loss together,” wrote The Times.
The Covid-19 pandemic may have sparked a bigger breakthrough in Thanksgiving traditions than anything that has come before. After Lincoln’s proclamation, even in times of war, depression, and tragedy, most Americans still found ways to gather with family and friends over a festive meal.
But the threat of a pandemic – better understood in 2020 than in 1918 – forced many people to stay at home last year.
Things will be different today. The pandemic is not over yet, but the worst of it is almost certainly here. Vaccines have allowed most Americans to collect safely.
There are hardly any happy moods in the country. Despite the fact that people are happy to be together again, many mourn the loss of the past two years and are deeply concerned about the future of the country. However, mixed feelings have also been part of the Thanksgiving tradition since Lincoln’s proclamation.
More about the holiday: For Rafael Alvarez, the writer of The Wire, today is a chance to remember his father’s penknife and his parents’ dreams of Baltimore.
Rich: Kanye West designed the jacket for the Gap. It makes you look famous.
Rating: Vote for the best book in the last 125 years.
Ethical Issues: What should a reader with a large legacy do?
Lives lived: Margo Guryan recorded the album in the 1960s, but he did not find an audience until the end of the 1990s. “People say I’ve been rediscovered,” she said then. “It’s not true – I was discovered.” Guryan died at the age of 84.
ART & IDEAS
Macy’s Thanksgiving parade last year lacked the typical spectacle. Due to the pandemic, there were no spectators, the route took only one block, and there were thousands of less participants marching.
This year, the parade is almost entirely back, with about 6,500 people working on it, up from 960 last year. The number of giant balloons and floats has returned to about two years ago. And 10 marching bands, many of which were unable to travel last year, will fill the streets.
There is one caveat: children under 12 years old will not participate. All parade participants must be fully vaccinated, but children aged 5 to 11 were eligible for their first vaccinations just a few weeks ago. (They can still watch; viewers do not need vaccinations.)
Their absence will be curious when Pikachu, SpongeBob SquarePants and Shrek were among the stars. “This year, young people swinging from the floats will be vaccinated by teens and teenagers – so viewers can perhaps expect less genuine joy and naive surprise,” writes Julia Jacobs of The Times.
The TV parade will feature the Rockets, Carrie Underwood, Mickey Guyton, Christine Chenoweth, John Baptiste and Nelly. It starts at 9 a.m. ET and you can watch it on NBC, Telemundo, or the Peacock streaming service. – Sanam Yar, Matinee writer