A neat bit of Texas history as we get ready to give thanks for all of the rich bounty with have been blessed with by our creator. This look back comes from our Congressman, Judge John Carter.
Thanksgiving, like the Fourth of July, is a uniquely American holiday, one in which we put aside for a day our political differences and give thanks for the blessings we have received for our families and nation. But that shouldn’t stop us from taking a look at the history of Thanksgiving as it relates to Texas.
Most Americans are ignorant of the fact that Thanksgiving was celebrated in Texas 23 years before the first Pilgrim set foot by accident in Massachusetts in 1621.
Now we in Texas don’t mean that as an insult to our northern brethren. As Will Rogers said, we’re all ignorant – just about different things.
When and where Thanksgiving began always hinges on one of three arguments. Is the birthplace of Thanksgiving determined by the location of the first official feast of Thanksgiving by European colonists, or the first proclamation declaring an annual day of Thanksgiving, and is the recognition of a late Thursday in November a pre-condition for winning the contest?
If the answer is the former, Texas wins, and out with the turkeys. According to the Texas Almanac, El Paso celebrated the first Thanksgiving in North America. Spanish explorer Juan de Onate and his expedition of some 600 soldiers and colonists officially celebrated April 30, 1598 as a day of Thanksgiving on the site of what would become El Paso. They reportedly had ducks, geese, and fish.
Unfortunately, if we insist on the establishment of November as the month, we’re back to turkeys and some other state.
But Texans are certainly not the first to challenge the traditional misunderstanding that Massachusetts invented Thanksgiving. Those misdirected Pilgrims were supposed to be part of the Virginia Colony, which officially celebrated a day of Thanksgiving in 1610 in Jamestown following their survival of the infamous "Starving Time", when the young Colony almost perished.
Now to argument number two – when did it become an official annual event? Here comes Connecticut, which proclaimed the first annual celebration in 1639.
And so the argument goes, through the centuries, with states celebrating a day of Thanksgiving towards the end of November or first week of December across the country.
Texas Governor George Wood proclaimed our official annual Thanksgiving Day in 1849 as the first Thursday in December.
President Abraham Lincoln (R-IL) in 1863 became our first President to officially proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving, establishing the last Thursday in November as the official day.
President Franklin Roosevelt (D-NY) moved the official day from the last to the fourth Thursday in November to give shoppers more time before Christmas. That was part of Roosevelt’s 1939 economic stimulus plans, since all the massive federal spending he had undertaken since 1933 had failed to end the Great Depression, and he was finally turning to the free market for help. History repeats.
But back to putting aside our political differences.
There’s nothing wrong with having some grilled duck alongside that traditional turkey this Thursday, or some great Tex-Mex too for that matter. That’s real diversity that I whole-heartedly endorse.
We have adopted our current Thanksgiving traditions over centuries of American history and folklore to come up with our current version and that’s fine.
There is just one thing about this holiday that cannot be altered or debated, even in good-natured regional jibing, regardless of where, when, or how we celebrate it.
Thanksgiving is our national holiday to thank the Lord God Almighty for the incredible blessings He has poured on us as a nation, and to recommit our country to being the kind of nation He would have us to be.
Happy Thanksgiving to all, and May God continue to bless each of you, Texas, and America.
For a little balance, here is the Thanksgiving proclamation delivered by Edward Rawson on June 20, 1676, on behalf of the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, declaring June 29 a day of thanksgiving. It’s reprinted as original:
"The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present War with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions:
The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and souls as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ."
Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.