Thanksgiving week it upon us once again. We’re cleaning, shopping, driving to airports and preparing to cook for our families. As Latinos, our menus consist of turkey, pernil, arroz con gandules, pasteles and mashed sweet potatoes with crushed pineapple (well, that’s my menu!) We honor the tradition by giving thanks for what the past year has brought us, and then joining hands and praying, before we eat the food we’ve been smelling while we waited for everyone to arrive. We indulge and revel in our own unique, Latino twisted, familial tradition. We watch “March of the Wooden Soldiers” and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while we cook, and a plethora of football games after we eat, all the while salsa/merengue/cumbia is playing in the background. But, besides Pilgrims and Native Americans, what do we really know about how Thanksgiving came about?
Thanksgiving, as a holiday, came about due to the efforts of a woman. Surprised? I’m not; rumor has it that the first Thanksgiving feast was cooked and served by four married women. Sarah Josepha Hale, a widowed mother of five children, badgered politicians at the state and federal level to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. As a magazine editor, she had a platform to plead for peace in the midst of a civil war. Yes, The Civil War. This woman took time away from her children to advocate for peace, when expediency would dictate that her time should have been spent on her own children. This is a woman who wrote letter upon letter to governors, senators and presidents; she felt that the issue of slavery was that important. She was an accomplished author who never received the acclaim of others simply because she did not feel that women belonged in the political arena. She is best known as the author of “Mary had a Little Lamb” and yet, she did so much more. This is a woman who wrote letters, from 1827 until 1863 when the POTUS finally made Thanksgiving a national holiday.
So, in 1863, we had a national day of giving thanks to a higher power. All because of a woman’s nagging and a pivotal battle at Gettysburg. Thanksgiving was proclaimed and declared as the last Thursday of November until 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the midst of the Great Depression, moved it up a week, to increase retail sales (sound familiar?) Public outcry and criticism (Franksgiving, anyone?) finally made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November.
In the midst of your own family traditions, please give some thought to a woman who thought of this country and her family’s place in it. I always give thanks for Kennedy Airport, NYC and Eastern Airlines (now gone by the wayside) for their place in my family’s history in this country. What is your family’s history here and what are your Thanksgiving traditions?
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.