On the holiday calendar, when we leave Veterans Day behind, we round towards Thanksgiving — perhaps America’s most beloved, widely shared, and mythologized celebration.
But this reminds me of the fact that Abraham Lincoln’s first Thanksgiving proclamation came 160 years ago in 1863. It came in the midst of the Civil War in the same month Lincoln offered the Gettysburg Address. It must have felt like there was little to celebrate– or to be grateful for.
Like the Macy’s parade, this is my Thanksgiving tradition. I post two articles about the holiday with some “Hidden History” that appeared on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times.
So here’s something to read–either before or after the feast.
The first, from 2008, is called “A French Connection” and tells the story of the real first Pilgrims in America. They were French. In Florida. Fifty years before the Mayflower sailed. It did not end with a happy meal. In fact, it ended in a religious massacre.
TO commemorate the arrival of the first pilgrims to America’s shores, a June date would be far more appropriate, accompanied perhaps by coq au vin and a nice Bordeaux. After all, the first European arrivals seeking religious freedom in the “New World” were French. And they beat their English counterparts by 50 years. That French settlers bested the Mayflower Pilgrims may surprise Americans raised on our foundational myth, but the record is clear.
The complete story can be found in America’s Hidden History.
The second is “How the Civil War Created Thanksgiving” (2014) and tells the story of the Union League providing Thanksgiving dinners to Union troops.
Of all the bedtime-story versions of American history we teach, the tidy Thanksgiving pageant may be the one stuffed with the heaviest serving of myth. This iconic tale is the main course in our nation’s foundation legend, complete with cardboard cutouts of bow-carrying Native American cherubs and pint-size Pilgrims in black hats with buckles. And legend it largely is.
In fact, what had been a New England seasonal holiday became more of a “national” celebration only during the Civil War, with Lincoln’s proclamation calling for “a day of thanksgiving” in 1863.
Enjoy them both.