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Reasons for Thanksgiving: presidential hopes & Pilgrim facts. English Detective # 117
November 06, 2018

Reasons for Thanksgiving: Presidential Hopes & Pilgrim Facts

There have been Thanksgiving celebrations in what’s now the U.S. since the earliest settlements, but it’s only been a yearly national holiday since the Civil War. There’s a lot more to the story than students learn in elementary school.

Politifact looks into the origins of Thanksgiving , trying to separate myths from facts. Historians agree about the basic story we learned about the Pilgrims’ feast. They were celebrating a harvest that would help them live through the next winter in much better condition than the first. A large number of Indians feasted with them and contributed several deer to the feast. (The article goes into detail about the reasons for the friendly relations—that lasted 50 years, and then were never regained.)

At that first Thanksgiving feast, they almost certainly did not have some of our Thanksgiving staples: potatoes and sweet potatoes, salad, and pies. In fact, as late as the 1950s oysters were a Thanksgiving tradition, along with other seafood and meats. Turkey was a luxury for most people for much of American history.

The article also looks into other American thanksgivings (some were religious events rather than feasts) from colonial days through Washington’s first Thanksgiving proclamation, various state holidays, and finally Lincoln’s establishment of a national holiday. (It also mentions Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to move it up a week to boost the weak economy with extra shopping.)

The “Mother” of Thanksgiving goes into more detail about Sarah Hale, who campaigned for years to make Thanksgiving a unifying national holiday. She finally saw it happen in 1863 when Lincoln and his Cabinet also were looking for ways to heal and unite the still-broken nation.

The article also goes into detail about some earlier Thanksgiving celebrations and the origins of some Thanksgiving traditions.

Thanksgiving, Unity-- & Inclusion

I loved the picture the Chicago Tribune gives of Lincoln’s broader purposes in making Thanksgiving a holiday—as well as in his other decisions. It emphasizes his desire for unity, as well as for ending slavery—a move he waited to make until he could justify it as a war measure.

About the Emancipation Proclamation, it says “Critics have argued Lincoln should have included states in the Union, but that would have been illegal and unwise.” (It explains why.) I was stunned by what follows: “By design, the Emancipation Proclamation is a detailed dry document that makes the case for removing property, with emphasis on procedure.” (The bolding is mine.) Everyone knew Lincoln opposed slavery. He didn’t need to make an eloquent, dramatic proclamation, and he definitely did not want to further provoke those who disagreed by underlining that victory.

The article summarizes its point: “Lincoln used practical means for transcendent goals. Give thanks.”

There’s quite a bit of overlap in the three articles, but each emphasizes different aspects and provides unique perspective and extra information (as well as a chance to review the main vocabulary.)

Vocabulary Practice: Thanksgiving

‘Issue’ comes from the idea of going out, and has a number of meanings.

An issue (noun) can be one of a series of magazines (or other things like stamps) sent out. (This is issue #117 of English Detective. I’ve already sent it out 116 times, and expect to continue sending it.)

An issue can also be a problem or topic being discussed. (“Immigration is a major issue in the U.S. and Europe right now.”)

To issue is to go out from a place (“the river issued from a spring on the side of a hill”) or more commonly to send something out. Government agencies can issue money, stamps, and warnings as well as proclamations.

The origin is where or when something began—its source.

Original is an adjective or noun that means something was present at the beginning. An original is not a copy. An original person thinks up his/her own ideas and doesn’t just follow the ideas of other people.

To originate is to start from a particular place.

To proclaim is to make an official declaration about something. (It’s from the Latin root meaning to shout. So are acclaim, exclaim, & exclamation.)

A proclamation is an important official announcement.

A tradition is a long-established a custom.

Traditional is an adjective referring to the way things have been done for years in an area or a culture.

You can practice these words with a true/false and matching quiz. (The answers are on page 3.)

English Detective will have one more issue before the American Thanksgiving holiday. (The Canadian Thanksgiving is already past.) I don’t know about other thanksgiving celebrations, but I hope you will have (or have had) a happy one.


Catherine Simonton,

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