The city of Gonzales is already decked out for Christmas with lights and bows strewn across power lines throughout downtown.
Some local businesses have also gotten into the holiday spirit by setting up Christmas decorations and ornaments on their properties as well.
This is well and good, but … don’t we have another holiday to go before Christmas? What about Thanksgiving, the first “American” holiday?
Doesn’t it deserve to have its time to shine, uninterrupted by those who wish to expedite the Christmas season and gloss over this special time of year, where we thank providence (God and nature) for the blessings of a bountiful harvest? Can’t we be thankful for a little bit for Thanksgiving?
Well before Labor Day, the Fourth of July or Memorial Day was ever established, the “First Thanksgiving” allegedly took place in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, when Pilgrims celebrated a great harvest with the neighboring tribes the Wampanoags and Patuxet, who had helped them survive a bitter winter of scarcity in exchange for an alliance and protection against the Narangansett tribe. This is the tale that is told to most grade-school children in the United States.
However, Thanksgiving celebrations date back even earlier than that. The colonists who landed in Virginia aboard the ship Margaret on Dec. 4, 1619, held a religious celebration and declared, by charter, that the day of their ship’s arrival would be “perpetually kept as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
The first nationwide Thanksgiving was proclaimed by President George Washington, who declared Nov. 26, 1789, would be “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.”
Modern Thanksgiving was established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 when he proclaimed the final Thursday of November would be set as the date for celebration of the bounties of harvest and a time to pray for the healing of the wounds of the nation. Lincoln would be assassinated and it would take the completion of Reconstruction before Thanksgiving celebrations became an annual occurrence beginning in the mid-1870s.
In October 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation changing the date of Thanksgiving to the “next to last” Thursday in November in an effort to boost the Depression-era economy and to create an extra seven days of Christmas shopping for retailers.
The state of Texas actually celebrated two Thanksgiving dates (the original final Thursday and the new “next to last Thursday” date) until 1942 after Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress on Dec. 26, 1941, changing the official national Thanksgiving Day to be the fourth Thursday in November regardless of whether the month had four or five Thursdays depending on the year.
Technically, however, Thanksgiving was celebrated in the Americas even before the Virginia or Massachusetts dates. Historians in Texas site a religious service of thanksgiving by Spanish explorers at the mission in San Elizario, Texas, in 1598, while Florida historians claim the first thanksgiving took place in what is current-day St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, the same year the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement was founded.
St. Augustine was officially founded on Sept. 8, 1565, and was named for the Feast Day of St. Augustine, which occurred 11 days earlier, for it was on that day that Spanish sailors first spotted land on the coast of Florida. The first Thanksgiving Mass was celebrated on the new colony site the day it was founded, making this the very first holiday documented to have been celebrated on what today is the continental United States.
Thanksgiving is about more than turkey or college or pro football or parades or pageantry. It is about recognizing, in the face of abundance and prosperity, that we owe our fortune to more than just ourselves, but also to the favor we have received from some higher power, and it is a time to humbly give thanks and show appreciation.
Because of this alone, I wish we could dial back Christmas celebrations and paraphernalia until at least the day after Thanksgiving so this “American” holiday can get the recognition and attention it rightfully deserves.