Turkey Day Facts

November 20th, 2009 by Sarah Sycz
Andover Townsman Nov. 22, 1945

Andover Townsman Nov. 22, 1945

Andover Townsman Nov. 18, 1943
Andover Townsman Nov. 18, 1943

In 2009 Pilgrims, turkey, and pie equal Thanksgiving, but is this how the holiday really started? While it is true that the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoags did hold a harvest feast, this was not the beginning of the annual holiday we now celebrate, but just a one time harvest feast. In early colonial America thanksgivings were days of solemn prayer and worship much like the Sabbath. These thanksgivings could happen throughout the year and could be held for many reasons. Fall was a time of great harvest and it was not uncommon for thanksgivings to be held in autumn as a way to be thankful for the bounties of the harvest.

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As time went on autumnal harvest feasts grew and began to be combined with religious days of thanksgiving. By the mid-18th century a singular day of Thanksgiving was becoming more popular and was predominantly held in the autumn months from October to the end of December. These Thanksgiving days were often proclaimed a week prior to the actual day of Thanksgiving by the church, town, or local government. Thanksgiving by the mid-18th century was a day of prayer and church services as well as a day of feast and fun.

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It was not until 1863 that Thanksgiving become an official annual holiday when President Lincoln deemed it an national holiday after the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale was a writer and New Hampshire native who for nearly 40 years spent time writing to congressman and presidents seeking for a national day of thanksgiving.

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Throughout the late 18th century and well into the 19th century all over New England, November was a month filled with much preparation and cheer as Thanksgiving approached. New Englanders celebrated Thanksgiving with more fanfare than Christmas up until the late 19th century.

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Records from diaries from all over Essex County recall the feasts and festivities associated with Thanksgiving. Eddie Cummings of Haverhill wrote in 1866 about her Thanksgiving food preparations which lasted over a week consisting of making mince meat, apple, squash, and custard pies for 19 guests who attended her Thanksgiving dinner!

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A Newbury woman recalled her childhood memories of Thanksgiving in the 1790s as a day full of cooking, cleaning, and frolicking for some members of the family who stayed behind from worship to prepare for the feast:

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“Uncle Ben, a lad of 12, brought wood and did other chores, meanwhile playing many practical jokes…at 12, Aunt Hannah set the table with the best napery and ware, the pickles and the applesauce were brought, the cider drawn, and the chaffing dishes filled, ready to put on the table to keep the gravy hot ….diner was immediately set upon the table. Grace having been said, due justice was given to the turkey and plum pudding”

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Thanksgiving was a time of social gatherings with people traveling to visit friends and family and a time for sociable events such as balls, dances, and fairs. On November 28, 1860 citizens of Andover were invited to a grand Thanksgiving Ball at the town hall.

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On November 24,1899 the Andover Townsman boasted articles featuring The Fireman’s Thanksgiving Eve Ball and Christ Church’s “Sale of Thanksgiving Dainties … of tempting display of delectable articles which will be appreciated by those preparing for the time-honored feast” and advertisements for Thanksgiving supplies at Smith & Manning and J.H. Campion & Co’s. A week later the Townsman declared “…the poor turkey gobbler has been gobbled”.

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Thanksgiving continued into the 20th century becoming even more secular and more festive with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and further commercialization of the holiday. Though this transition away from a religious holiday did not go unnoticed. In the November 20, 1941 issue of The Andover Townsman the Ministers of Andover took out a full page add reminding the community of the real significance of Thanksgiving. Despite such warnings the commercial side of Thanksgiving was here to stay. Even during the years that WWII raged on ads can be found in the Townsman featuring cartoon turkeys and Pilgrims selling everything from table linens & laundry services, to chocolates and nuts. Effects of the war did take their toll on the traditional Thanksgiving dish of turkey. Ads from grocers explaining the lack of turkeys from “legitimate turkey receivers” who because of rationing where unsure of the quantity of turkey they would have available can be found. The J.E. Greeley Co. of Andover made sure consumers were well aware that while they might not be able to guarantee turkeys they had all fixing’s: cranberry sauce, walnuts, figs, plum pudding, Mince Meat, and fruit cake Despite changes in beliefs, wars, political and economic shifts Thanksgiving remains a holiday of giving thanks whether at formal religious services or at home, a day of visiting family and friends, and a day of feasting. This Thanksgiving whether you are at the Feaster Five Road Race, watching the Macy’s Day parade, football, or just eating yourself silly, Thanksgiving is a New England holiday with roots going back many years all based on the idea of giving thanks for what we have from food, to our loved ones.

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