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This ‘n’ That: There is Much to be Thankful for

November 21, 2018

By Jack Swift
Johnson County Historian

This Thursday, November 22, is Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving Day has special meaning for me. Although I am thankful every day for the many blessings that my Lord has bestowed upon me, I believe it is good to have a special day set aside to give special emphasis on counting our blessings and being thankful for them. Family, friends, the freedom to worship, living in this great country of America, and living in beautiful and historic Johnson County are just a few of all the blessings that I am thankful for. Many folks will travel to be with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day. They’ll brave the congested traffic on the highways and byways of this great land or they’ll go through all the stress of getting to the airport and going through the trouble at the airport to travel to see loved ones and be with them for just a while.

Oh yes, the food! Many folks will have an abundance of food on the table for Thanksgiving. If they have enough food, they should be thankful indeed. I am so grateful to the agricultural community and especially the farmers of America. With hard work, know how, and determination, the American farmer battles insects, weeds, bad weather and a number of other things to produce an abundance of food and fiber for America and other peoples of the world.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day it would be well to be mindful of its origin. In 1620 more than one hundred people sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in the New World. These pilgrims had come to this new land for religious freedom. Unfortunately their first winter was difficult. They arrived too early to grow many crops and they were unprepared for the harsh winter. Consequently, many died.

In the fall of 1621, the colonists had a bountiful harvest. The first Thanksgiving Day celebration in America occurred when the Pilgrims, on order of Governor William Bradford, held a three-day festival to commemorate their harvest in the fall of 1621. The Indians had been kind to the colonists, teaching them to hunt, fish and grow a number of crops that were unfamiliar to the colonists. So, as a gesture of appreciation, Indians were invited to attend the Thanksgiving feast. Many Indians came bearing venison, turkey and other wild game.

It was after the U. S. became an independent country that Congress recommended one annual day of thanksgiving for the nation as a whole. George Washington suggested November 26. After a long and bloody Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln asked all Americans to set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving. That date held until 1939 and 1940 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date one week earlier so there would be a longer shopping period before Christmas. That didn’t set too well with many folks, so Congress ruled that the fourth Thursday in November would be a federal holiday proclaimed by the President each year.

Have you ever heard of Sara Josepha Hale? I didn’t think so. I hadn’t either until I started my research for this column. She was a magazine editor who was a strong advocate for having the Nation set aside a day to give thanks to God for His blessings. As editor of a popular widely read women’s magazine, she wrote many editorials arguing for a Thanksgiving Day. She also wrote many letters to anyone she thought would help her cause including Presidents, Governors, Congress and others. She is credited with being a primary influence on President Lincoln’s decision to declare a Thanksgiving Day.