By Roberta C.M. DeCaprio
All of us grew up with celebrating Thanksgiving on the next-to-last Thursday of November, but the origin of this tradition wasn’t always the case.
December 18th, 1777 marked the first time that all 13 colonies joined in a Thanksgiving celebration. It commemorated the patriotic victory over the British at Saratoga.
President George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving for November 26th, 1789 to honor the formation of the United States government.
It wasn’t until 1830 that the State of New York proclaimed Thanksgiving an official holiday. Other states soon followed its example.
In 1850 Minnesota territory’s Governor, Alexander Ramsey, proclaimed for what is now the State of Minnesota, plus the Dakotas as far west as the Missouri River, (which contained approximately 6,000 settlers at the time), the celebration of Thanksgiving Day to be on December 26th.
Sarah Josepha Hale, an editor for her Boston Ladies’ Magazine, wrote many articles championing the cause to have all nations join together in setting apart a national day of giving thanks. By 1852, Hale succeeded in uniting 29 states in making the last Thursday of November Thanksgiving Day. Finally, after a 40 year campaign of writing editorials and letters to governors and presidents, Hale’s passion became a reality. On October 3rd, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November a national day of Thanksgiving.
In 1939 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday of the month to be Thanksgiving Day. This break with tradition was prompted by requests from the National Retail Dry Goods Association. To this day that date has remained.
While stuffing and roasting the turkey you’ll dine on this Thanksgiving, keep in mind that in 1868 in Wyoming Thanksgiving wasn’t celebrated with turkey and all the trimmings. Cheyenne printers feasted on oysters.
In 1881 troops at Wyoming’s Fort Washakie dined on ten elk, six black-tailed deer and one buffalo. Apples, almonds, pecans, cherries and codfish were also part of the meal.
A “Calico Hop” in Sheridan, Wyoming on Thanksgiving night featured supper, music, dancing and a taffy pull contest.
The November, 1871 issue of “The Laramie Sentinel” advertised canned corn, nuts and fresh, cultivated cranberries at the Eagle Bakery. But not a single advertisement, however, featured a turkey. Maybe 1871 was a bad year for turkeys all over the State of Wyoming.
If you’re interested in further information on how the pioneers celebrated Thanksgiving, pick up a copy of “The Frontier Holiday”. This book describes Thanksgiving as a spirited celebration.