‘Blessings And Comforts’
I suspect we all know the original Thanksgiving story.
I suspect many know that Washington called for days of Thanksgiving during the Revolution and that the first national day of Thanksgiving dates to President Lincoln in 1863. It would be another seven years before President Grant signed the Holidays Act into law that made Thanksgiving a federal holiday.
Controversy in the late 1930s prompted Congress to establish the date starting in 1942 – the fourth Thursday in November.
But Thanksgiving in Warren hasn’t always looked like what it does today. At least that was my theory when I started digging into newspaper archives.
The Warren Mail in Nov. 1855 published a four column, front page piece that looks a lot like fiction.
A poem entitled Thanksgiving Turkey was with a lead story in the Mail in 1875.
Of higher gifts a quaint reminder,
Then let the bounty do its best
T make us gladder, stronger,kinder
Bid no ghos to be our guest
But eat as those now gone to rest
Once ate Thanksgiving turkey.”
Many of the 19th century papers included a history of Thanksgiving that goes back to the Pilgrims.
That 1875 paper said Thanksgiving “was preeminently a day when all united to praise the Lord and to return thanks for blessings, special or ordinary, for peace and prosperity, for abundant harvests, for freedom from any public calamity…. All hasten to the village church, where the pastor directs their thoughts above, and urges upon them the duty of obedience…. Then comes the dinner – the old New England dinner, so famed in song and story.”
But the editors then didn’t stop at just celebrating the day as prior generations had. They try to understand how the holiday had changed as the decades passed.
“Such was the day to our fathers – a day of Thanksgiving and rejoicing. Now what is it to us? Was its character changed; yes to an extent. It is still a season of religious and social festivity, but the order is reversed. It is no longer thanksgiving and rejoicing, but rejoicing first, and thanksgiving as something secondary and of less importance. Thanksgiving day is gradually losing its old religious flavor. All the sociality is retained, as it should be; but the religious element is being slowly crowded out. Public services are, it is true, held in our churches; but too often the preacher makes it an occasion for expressing his political views…. Furthermore, the custom of attending public services on this day is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.”
The editors were critical about what they felt was the kind of conduct people were exhibiting on the holiday.
“Thanksgiving day is getting to be more of a name than a reality on the part of individuals,” they wrote. “Let us, as we enjoy the good things of life, remember those whose means prevent a like enjoyment; those whose wants are so numerous that they seem to have little to be thankful for. He who is truly grateful himself delights to confer favors upon others….”
By 1879, the Mail acknowledged that the “holiday once so rigidly confined to New England has now become one of the permanent institutions of the whole country.
“But with all the change that has taken place, the idea which originated the custom of observing a day of thanksgiving has not been wholly lost…. (S)o the annual recurrence of Thanksgiving day, brings to all something of the idea that the blessings and comforts of life which we obtain are not due entirely to ourselves; that we are but recipients of fights which are bestowed upon us, and that there is a Being to whom we should be thankful for them. The association of this idea, with the family reunions, the social gatherings, the general enjoyment and good cheer and good will which count with Thanksgiving Day, gives it something of a character different from ordinary holidays, although the original Puritanic ideas of its observance have departed.”
A sermon was published on the front page as well as a list of what had happened in the community on that holiday.
“Thanksgiving day was warm and pleasant. Services were held at the Episcopal Church in the forenoon, an appropriate sermon being delivered by Rev. H.S. Getz, the Rector. Union services were held at the Baptist church…. The stores were closed about noon with a few exceptions. Our meat dealers report large sales of turkey, geese and chickens and everybody must have enjoyed a good dinner – for one day at least.
“The go-as-you–please match at Roscoe Hall, in the afternoon, attracted a large audience. In the evening the Entre Nous society entertained a very large audience, and thus ended a busy and pleasant Governor’s Sunday.”
“Thanksgiving was observed mainly in the enjoyment of good dinners” in Wrightsville, a report explained.
Church services continued to be a theme well into the 1970s.
Services were held on Thanksgiving at the baptist, Lutheran and episcopal churches on Thanksgiving in 1890 and the Mail republished Ladies’ Home Journal articles on both how to choose and roast a turkey.
In 1893 we get an explanation of just what the thanksgiving meal should be and who should prepare it.
“Really our modern Thanksgiving dinner ought to be held on the simple, natural, ample American lines, both in materials and cookery. Even those among us accustomed to foreign flavors and fripperies would be sure to relish it….”
What precisely does that mean? Well, in 1893 it meant turkey or chicken with cranberry sauce, potatoes, squash as well as apple, pumpkin, mince and cranberry pies.
“Now, how shall the average American mother serve such a dinner and yet get any enjoyment from the day herself, provided she must do it all with her own hands?” the report continued. “Servants are not essential in this case, for there is forethought and planning and the children of the household are allowed to do their part.”
A moral judgment was passed in 1896 – “One of the benign results of the observance of Thanksgiving day is the encouragement it gives to public benevolence…. The significance of the day is lost to those who appropriate it solely for personal gratification and selfish enjoyment” while in 1905 it was pointed out Thanksgiving passed “off very quietly and orderly” in Irvine. “No drunkenness or disturbances occurred which is credibly to our village.”
Dances at the Legion and the Elks show up in the 1940s as well as traditional Thanksgiving services.
The holiday took on a special flavor in 1945.
“In many homes Thanksgiving was remembered by family gatherings. Returned service men added in many homes to the spirit of Thanksgiving,” one report said.
“Thanksgiving day in Warren, the first since our armed forces have ceased participation in actual hostilities on many widespread fronts, will have little in the nature of a public observance but will find many families reunited for the first time in several years,” another report stated.
“Several churches have announced individual services for the morning hours, but, in general, business will be at a standstill. The various banks, post office, most retail establishments and state and federal offices will observe the customary holiday procedure.”
Church services on Thanksgiving were prominently highlighted into the 1970s but had shifted to Thanksgiving Eve.
Just where the current shopping frenzy came from is outside the scope of what I’m writing about. Maybe one shoe ad in 1973 gave us a glimpse?
“Naturally you’ll want to look your best when the family gets together on Thanksgiving Day….”