Tri States Public Radio Staff
Wed November 25, 2009
The Tradition of Thanksgiving
Macomb, IL – Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate peace and prosperity, but was it always that way?
Assistant Professor of History at Western Illinois, Tim Roberts, specializes in early American history. He says early American Presidents proclaimed days of fasting during November. Those days originated during the Revolutionary War.
"Ministers and local politicians would pray for victory and peace in the war," says Roberts. "And in those days it carried on after the war into the republic."
Roberts says the harvest festivals of the 1600s and 1700s included wars of extermination between the pilgrims and natives. Although there might have been peace initially, a common misconception by Americans is that Thanksgiving resulted in friendship between the two cultures.
"The post-Thanksgiving history relationship between the pilgrims, puritans, and the local native peoples is not one we can be terribly proud of," says Roberts. "By the 18th century there were very few natives left in the area where the first Thanksgiving had been."
He says that's a marked change from the first Thanksgiving, when there were probably twice as many Indians than pilgrims.
"It is a day, perhaps, where we may reflect on the conflict that ensued after the first Thanksgiving," says Roberts. "We might consider Thanksgiving today as a time to reflect on the possibility for how we can reconcile differences and make peace, perhaps a way to honor the first pilgrims and natives that sat down at the first Thanksgiving 300 years ago."
Roberts says President Franklin Roosevelt declared Thanksgiving to be an official holiday during the 1930s. Roberts believes Roosevelt encouraged businesses to give their workers the next day off to promote the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.
"Traditions we assume today, people believe are official, but in reality, they have come to us through custom," Roberts states. He says deer used to be the common dish. He says the first presidential pardon of a turkey was given by President Richard Nixon.