Thanksgiving is just a day away, and I’ve been noticing on Facebook, friends posting what they are thankful for this holiday season. Those statuses certainly have given me pause to count my own blessings.
First and foremost, I am thankful for my family, who, no matter how far away I am from them, help me stay grounded in where I came from. You can take the girl out of Mississippi, but you can’t take Mississippi out of the girl!
I’m thankful for roller derby. Yes, that may be a strange thing to say, but it’s through participation in this sport that I have not only found lifelong friends but also strength and courage to stick with something very challenging and really live up to the “never give up” mantra. There’s definitely a life lesson in that.
Last but certainly not least, I’m thankful for having the opportunity to really learn something new every day. Part of the mission of the Library of Congress is to further human understanding by providing access to knowledge through its amazing collections. I can honestly say that I really do take advantage of that. And, so can you. Currently, the Library makes freely available on its website more than 31 million items, from manuscripts and newspapers to films, sound recordings and photographs.
To bring it home in celebration of turkey, stuffing, pecan pie, a table full of friends and family and anything else you can think of that makes Thanksgiving special to you, here are some interesting facts I’ve learned about the holiday thanks to working here at the Library.
One could argue the first “thanksgiving” was actually celebrated In May 1541, when Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and 1,500 men celebrated at the Palo Dur Canyon — located in the modern-day Texas Panhandle — after their expedition from Mexico City in search of gold. In 1959 the Texas Society Daughters of the American Colonists commemorated the event as the “first Thanksgiving.”
Another “first Thanksgiving” occurred on June 30, 1564, when French Huguenot colonists celebrated in a settlement near Jacksonville, Fla. This “first Thanksgiving,” was later commemorated at the Fort Carolina Memorial on the St. Johns River in eastern Jacksonville.
The harsh winter of 1609-1610 generated a famine that caused the deaths of 430 of the 490 settlers in Jamestown, Va. In the spring of 1610, the surviving colonists enjoyed a Thanksgiving service after English supply ships arrived with food. This colonial celebration has also beenconsidered the “first Thanksgiving.”
Following the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress recognized the need to give thanks for delivering the country from war and into independence. Congress issued a proclamation on October 11, 1782, which proclaimed the observation of Thursday the twenty-eight day of November next, as a day of solemn Thanksgiving to God for all his mercies.”
Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. But that was not always the case.
When Abraham Lincoln was president in 1863, he proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be our national Thanksgiving Day. Newport native Sarah Josepha Hale had written a letter to President Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War, entreating him to make Thanksgiving an official national holiday.
In 1865, Thanksgiving was celebrated the first Thursday of November, because of a proclamation by President Andrew Johnson, and, in 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant chose the third Thursday for Thanksgiving Day. In all other years, until 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated as Lincoln had designated, the last Thursday in November. Then, in 1939, responding to pressure from the National Retail Dry Goods Association to extend the Christmas shopping season, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday back a week, to the next-to-last Thursday of the month.
Follow the history of Thanksgiving celebrations in the Thanksgiving Timeline.
For our forbears, frontier life in the 19th century offered challenges to pioneers but also provided opportunities to give thanks. To hear remembrances of Thanksgivings past, search on “Thanksgiving” in American Life Histories, 1936-1940.
So, what are you thankful for this holiday season?