As I look out my window, I see a mixture of rain and snow falling to the ground. This week, some parts of the country are receiving up to 10 inches of white stuff. Many places will see more wet conditions for Thanksgiving. Storms are not normally a big deal unless most of the country is traveling by car – train – plane. Inclement weather reminds me of a campaign we launched in the 1991 Farmers’ Almanac.
In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in October. There is no specific date that Thanksgiving actually commemorates. Rather, it is a celebration of the “harvest” and sharing bounty with family and friends. In 1991, we made the suggestion that the United States follow our Canadian friends and move Thanksgiving to the second Monday in October.
We were in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and on CBS News debating the issue with an “expert” from the Smithsonian Institute. There were three reasons we liked the idea:
- The two major family holidays are within 4 weeks of each other on the calendar. Why not spread out the visits and holidays?
- Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest – shouldn’t “the day” be closer to the harvest? Isn’t it a day that befits gold and red leaves on our trees?
- Usually, weather for folks coming from or to northern states is hazardous and time consuming. That is not an issue mid October. Since this is the most traveled holiday, why not have it land on a date that might insure safe travel and fewer hours getting there.
Since the 1990s I’d have to add a new twist. Retailers have so much vested in Christmas, that Thanksgiving is almost an afterthought. Let’s just let the stores go wild in late October and push merchandise for an entire quarter.
In the end “tradition” won out over making the move. But, if we wanted to all that is needed is a Joint Resolution in Congress. . .
Below is the 1991 article Should We Tinker With Thanksgiving? Glance over it and let us know if you like the idea. It created quite a stir back then.
Happy Thanksgiving Day – stay safe and make memories with family and friends.
SHOULD WE TINKER WITH THANKSGIVING?
The Farmers’ Almanac, through 174 years of existence, has mellowed in the tradition and heritage of our ancestors. While it has supported those traditional values that have made our country great, this loyalty has not been blind nor unquestioning and it has not hesitated to question those traditions that have worn thin because of the changing mores.
Thus, we have questioned the singability of the National Anthem, practicability of the nine-digit zip code, and suggested eliminating completely the copper penny. We have asked our readers for their feelings on these subjects and more as a guide to developing a better way of life.
In the last few years there has been some question about the placement of the Thanksgiving holiday on the fourth Thursday in November and whether, in fact, it should be observed at a more appropriate time in the fall season.
Thanksgiving is a sacred holiday. What makes it sacrosanct is not that it is observed on a certain date each year, but rather for what it means. When one ponders the real reason for Thanksgiving, the date of celebration seems immaterial. Whether it is the fourth Thursday of November, the second Monday in October, or some other date is just a detail. What is significant is that we in America set aside a special day to rejoice and be grateful for our blessings, that we recognize Thanksgiving as an occasion for slowing down our headlong rush toward the future to give thanks to God for the miracle of life and growth.
Thus, it is the occasion that is meaningful, not the calendar listing. The original concept behind Thanksgiving was recognition of a good harvest, and the question arises – when should that be? Should we continue to wait until weeks after the harvest has been completed or should we salute its success at the time it occurs?
In the northern hemisphere, most vegetables, fruits, and grains are harvested during the summer and early fall. By late September, frost creeps in along the northern tier of the nation. Crops are in and under cover by then and the farmers heave collective sighs of relief and thankfulness. It is in early October, the colorful foliage season, when most American hearts are filled with gratitude for what a gracious God and the good earth have provided for bodily nourishment and visual pleasures.
For years now, after having varied the date year to year, Canada has celebrated Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. For Americans to follow suit, all that would be required would be a joint resolution of Congress fixing the new date. Now comes the question, should we change the date of Thanksgiving and why? The arguments given are many. Changing the date for this festive occasion has been done many times before.
The first American Thanksgiving was a festival observed by the Plymouth Colony of transplanted English families in December, 1621, when they felt it appropriate to give communal thanks, after many setbacks, for a successful harvest.
The idea caught on throughout the British colonies and celebrations featured feasting on foods of the land: turkeys, pumpkins, fresh vegetables, apples, and berries. The date of Thanksgiving wasn’t always the same. What was significant was that the reason for the celebration was the same, and the timing was always at the end of the agricultural year.
Now it has been pointed out that by late November, trees have lost their leaves, fields and orchards are bare, and chill winds whisk us indoors for most of our waking hours. When we celebrate Thanksgiving under these conditions, we seem to have lost our sense of timing. The harvest season is long gone and the date we use for Thanksgiving seems to be enmeshed in other activities: football and basketball games and Christmas shopping. Department and specialty stores confuse us with their decorations to the extent that we wonder sometimes which holiday we are celebrating.
Then, too, late November weather is often no help for folks traveling to the traditional family reunions. Garbed in its most beautiful foliage a few weeks earlier, nature turns drab by our present Thanksgiving day. Snow and ice make travel hazardous and time consuming. Air travel is difficult and bumper to bumper traffic in sometimes blizzard conditions dims the beauty of this important day.
Thanksgiving has been an official holiday since the days of George Washington, who, in 1789, issued the first proclamation of Thanksgiving to honor the new national constitution. During the early 19th century, numerous states began to observe Thanksgiving on their own, setting different dates state by state.
In the 1860’s, Mrs. Sarah J. Hale, editor of Codey’s Lady’s Book, mounted a vigorous campaign for a national Thanksgiving Day to be on the same date each year, coast to coast. This gained presidential attention, and subsequently, on October 3 of 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a national Thanksgiving Day.
For the next seven decades, each U.S. President issued his own proclamation confirming the date. Then, in 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt re-set the day as November’s third Thursday. But, in 1941, a resolution was made to change it to the fourth Thursday of November, and it has remained thus ever since.
The concept of thanking a deity for the substance of life is not restricted to America. Throughout the world, harvest celebrations are held and observed in some instances by feasting and in others by fasting, but always embodying mass gratitude.
Today, Thanksgiving is a family holiday, recognizing the sanctity of the family as well as each member’s dependence on wind, rain, and soil. Now, should we consider changing the celebration to a more logical date such as the early part of October, possibly in conjunction with the Canadian Thanksgiving Day when nature is dressed in its colorful best, when the harvest moon is a bright orange disc, and when the season’s crop gathering is largely finished to the point that a pause is practical?
Let there be no misunderstanding. It is not to suggest that any one of the year’s 365 (or 366) days is not a day in which, and for which, to be thankful. But can we improve the meaning and purpose of this day by adjusting the date to the second Monday in October, or the day of October’s full moon when misty dusk brings out a special beauty?
Quite naturally, sports lovers who gear schedules to late November might object, but these schedules extend long after this day into December. The big parades could continue as now, since they are primarily for signaling the coming of Santa Claus and Christmas activity.
The Farmers’ Almanac supports this study and would like to hear from you, a valued reader, on this issue. Do let us know, and we’ll be grateful for your thoughts and will pass them along to our millions of readers for consideration as guide to the future celebration of this valued holiday. Write Thanksgiving, Farmers’ Almanac, Box 1609, Lewiston, Maine 04241.