The pilgrims on the Mayflower are hardly the first people to hold a celebration giving thanks to their god. In 1565, fifty-six years before the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles and 800 settlers landed in St. Augustine, Florida. De Aviles and his crew were greeted by members of the Timucua tribe. They held a feast to thank god for their safe journey.
In 1619 (two years before the pilgrims) settlers at a place called Berkley Hundred held a feast proclaiming December 4, 1619, would be “yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to the Almighty God.” Their Thanksgiving didn’t really stick because Berkeley Hundred was abandoned after the Indian Massacre of 1622.
But who gives a shit? Let’s talk about the pilgrims. The pilgrims were a group of English Protestant separatists who split from the Church of England. They rejected the idea that any of the stories in the Bible were metaphors meant to teach a lesson. They believed every word in the Bible was the literal truth, so if it wasn’t specifically laid out in the Bible, it doesn’t count. They didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter because those weren’t commanded in the Bible; they were just things people decided to do. So next time you hear someone talk about the war on Christmas, remember the pilgrims were the first ones to do it. The pilgrims didn’t like going to church, preferring to worship in private like the bible says. This put them at odds with the Church of England, who wanted their collection plate money. The pilgrims moved to Holland, where they were welcomed because the Dutch are chill as fuck. Too chill for the Pilgrims, actually. They thought the Dutch people would poison their children’s minds by being happy and shit. So, they hopped on the Mayflower and made tracks to the new world where they could homeschool their children and not have to worry about them learning science.
The place where they landed was an Indian settlement which had been wiped out from smallpox brought over by the last group of Europeans to come through. The pilgrims got off the boat and said, “Look, the good lord has cleared the land for us.” Unfortunately, the good lord didn’t bother to leave any food or shelter for the pilgrims after he killed all the locals. The first winter most of the settlers stayed on the boat, sneezing on each other and getting everyone sick. They were like people who go camping and spend the whole time sleeping in the car because they are afraid of bears, which I feel is a perfectly reasonable fear to have.
Once the weather got better the pilgrims ventured out of the Winnebago and started building their cult compound. They met an Indian fellow named Tisquantum aka Squanto. Squanto had been kidnapped by explorers and sold into slavery in Spain. He escaped and somethefuckhow made it to London, where he learned English and hitched a ride back to the New World. Squanto taught the pilgrims how to do all the shit they should have already known how to do before becoming a settler, like planting food and fishing. Seriously, you ever see those people on Survivor who can’t start a fire or build a hut. Did none of ya’ll motherfuckers think to Google “How to survive on a deserted island” before volunteering to survive on a deserted island?
Squanto helped negotiate an alliance with the nearby Wampanoag tribe. The Wampanoag’s chief was a guy named Massasoit. Years later, after Massasoit died, his son Metacomet took over the tribe. By that time the Indians were sick of white people showing up and littering everywhere and spreading germs so Metacomet went to war with the settlers. After Metacomet burned Springfield, Massachusetts to the ground, colonists tracked him down and shot him. Then they cut his head off and put it on a stick. Metacomet’s head and his new minimalist body were proudly displayed at Plymouth for the next 25 years.
In 1789 Congress and the Senate passed a resolution creating a national day of thanks to be held on November 26. It wasn’t a unanimous vote though. Take for instance congressman Thomas Tudor Tucker, who thought the federal government was overstepping it’s authority by telling everyone they should take a day off to count your blessings. He felt that should be a matter of states rights. He also thought the constitution gave the gubment too much power and we should do away with that too.
For about twenty years most presidents decided to declare a day of giving thanks, although some chose not to. Thomas Jefferson thought the idea was stupid. Thanksgiving celebrations were mostly a New England thing, which were held sporadically on different dates depending on the state, and mostly unheard of in the South. The only national holidays then were Washington’s birthday and Independence Day.
Thanksgiving became a permanent fixture on the calendar thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, which was the most popular and influential magazine in the country for several decades, and the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She was basically the Oprah of her time. For some reason, Hale had a major hair up her ass about making Thanksgiving a national holiday. For seventeen years she published articles pushing people to celebrate Thanksgiving, as well as writing letters to governors, senators, and five different presidents. In 1863, when the civil war was in full swing, Hale sent one of her countless badgering letters to president Abraham Lincoln. He liked the idea. A day where everyone calmed the fuck down and thought about positive things was just what the country needed.
On October 3, 1863, he issued the proclamation of turkey genocide, aka Thanksgiving:
“…In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union….I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
Thanksgiving then became an established tradition, but it still wasn’t a national holiday. In 1939 America was coming out of the Great Depression and going into WWII. Like today, the passing of Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. But unlike today, it was considered tacky as fuck for stores to start peddling Christmas shit before everyone got done with their cranberry sauce coma. In 1939 Thanksgiving (which was held on the last Thursday of November) landed on the last day of the month. On this particular year, November had five Thursdays. This meant the holiday shopping season would be a week shorter than usual. The guy who owned Macy’s department store didn’t want to lose a week of people buying shit they didn’t need, so he complained to president Franklin D Roosevelt, who moved Thanksgiving back a week. Normally I’d make a crack about presidents putting big business’s interest above the will of the people, but in his defense, the economy needed all the stimulation it could get.
It was a fucking disaster. When FDR made the proclamation, everyone had already made their Thanksgiving plans for the year. The most important plan being football. Every year college football teams played their rivals on Thanksgiving. If Thanksgiving happened a week earlier everyone would have already done their holiday traveling and wouldn’t go watch the games with their families. Everyone knows you don’t fuck with American’s football. Roosevelt’s Republican rival, Alf Landon, had this to say about the decision:
“…Another illustration of the confusion which his impulsiveness has caused so frequently during his administration. If the change has any merit at all, more time should have been taken in working it out…instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.'”
Motherfucker straight up called FDR Hitler for moving Thanksgiving.
Macy’s might have been happy, but the National Poultry and Dairy Association, calendar makers, and the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts were pissed. People started calling the new Thanksgiving “Franksgiving.” Franksgiving went on for another two years until Roosevelt finally said, “Fine, you whiny bitches.”
In 1941 Roosevelt signed a joint resolution, passed by Congress, declaring the fourth Thursday of November a Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.