Thanksgiving Day Traditions

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Another year has rolled around since last the American people observed that beautiful and time honored custom which is peculiar to them as a Nation of offering to the Great Ruler of all Nations the formal expression of their gratitude for His continued favors.

Last year the country had just emerged victoriously from war in behalf of civilization and humanity. Our losses had been comparatively slight, the chains of despotism had been stricken from the limbs of millions of human beings and American prestige had grown greatly in all quarters of the earth. Thanksgiving day, 1898, was, therefore, an occasion on which, particularly, the American repbulic could acknowledge its obligations anew and with heartfelt gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.

Today we still have the watchful care and the material bounties of a Divine Providence to be thankful for. Prosperity in our worldly affairs has continued to follow us as a people. No great calamity has overtaken us within the year which closes today; we have been free from famine, from virulent pestilence, or widespread visitations of disaster. The uniform progress and the good fortune which have been ours in the past we have continued to enjoy for the twelve months just gone. As a Nation, therefore, especially favored by Providence, we still have occassions to offer up grateful hearts and hopeful prayers to Him who holds in the hollow of His hand the destinies of Nations as of individuals.

But have we done our duty as a people, fully and unselfishly and in accord with justice, while enjoying these continued evidences of Divine favor? There are hundreds of thousands of us who question our National conduct during the past year. Have we not abused our power, given us for wise ends? Have we not violated that basic tenet of Christian faith that we should do unto others only as we would that they should do unto us? As surely as there is a God of Nations, retributive justice will sooner or later overtake and chastise us as a people if we forget the high purposes of our destiny or turn from the paths of honor, probity and humanity!

Get ready for Thanksgivin’- jest set your table fine,
An’ put the finest crock’ry out an’ make the silver shine.
No matter how the country goes-jest carve the turkey’s neck,
An’ while the carvin’s goin’ on be thankful you’re on deck.
Get ready for Thanksgivin’-jest fall into your place.
An’ if the preacher ain’t along be sure an’ say the grace,
No matter how the country goes-jest care the turkey straight,
An’ with a smile O’ thankfulness pitch in an’ pass your plate.
Atlantic Constitution

Thanksgiving Day is peculiarly the time when these great questions should engage the reflections of the American people, and let us trust they will be seriously considered again today throughout the length and breadth of our land.

But there is a beauty in our Thanksgiving custom that stands apart from the contemplation of matters of National interest. It is found in the social features of the day. It is a time of sweet reunions, when the wanderers from the old home gather again around the family hearth and rekindle the affections and memories of other days. It is a time when the heart pulsates only with emotions of gratitude and joy, when men feel that after all life has something to live for with bright hope and to remember with grateful pleasure! It is a day, too, in which to remember the poor, those into whose unfortunate or unhappy lives there rarely comes the occasion for thanksgiving!

The Post trusts that each recurring observance of this day may find the American people, both as a Nation and as individuals, with yet greater cause to return to thanks to the Giver of all good gifts for His manifold favors and continued protection.

A New England writer has described “the well-fed Thanksgiving Day that grew bright and round and lay upon the year’s horizon like a joyful pumpkin upon the rides of a Yankee cornfield.” Although a clergyman and descended from a family of divines, Thanksgiving evidently presented itself to his mind as a material rather than a religious festival, and it is certain that the mass of the people take this view. To be sure, the churches unlock their doors, it is a gastronomic rather than a religious festival.

Imagine all the churches whisked for the day out of sight, like Aladdin’s palace. There would hardly be an aching void in the popular heart, it would still be Thanksgiving. But suppose all the turkeys in the land wiped out thus summarily, does any one doubt that they would be missed? Thanksgiving would be nothing without the turkey. It is essentially an eating day. The doctor’s face grows round at the prospect of many fees to follow, and the thoughtful druggist lays in a fresh supply of pepsin.

The exact origin and purpose of this day is hard to decide upon. The Hebrews, Greeks and Romans observed similar festivals. The feast of the tabernacles occupied seven days after “ingathering of the harvest.” The people and stalks of corn and decorated them with flowers. Processions with floral banners were formed, bugies blown, psalms of thanksgiving chanted, and the young joined in dances. These festivities lasted seven days, when the booths were torn down and the people returned to their homes.

The Greeks have a nine days thanksgiving feast. The festivities were the same in general character as the feast of the tabernacles. The Roman feast was similar.

The English harvest home, the oldest holiday in England, was brought over by the Saxons, and was of the same general character as the preceding festivals.The great social and religious Thanksgiving festival in New England, from which it has spread to most of the States of the American Republic, is a joint legacy of the Pilgrims and Puritans. Some authorities claim it to be a prepetuation of the English harvest home, hers the feast of the tabernacles. If it has any kinship to anything in the past it is probably the former; but if this be so, it is strange that the early historian omits entirely any reference to such a purpose.

For two centuries Thanksgiving day continued to be a peculiarity of New England, but it has now become National and its annual return finds a hearty welcome from the lake shores to the gulf, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

President Lincoln was the first to issue a National proclamation, which he did recommending special thanksgiving for the victories of 1862-63. Since that time such a proclamation has been issued annually by the president, also by the governors of the States and the mayors of the principal cities. 

About mrhoustonian

A native Houstonian with a passion for preserving online Houston's great past.
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