Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving… on Christmas?

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“Who said anything about Thanksgiving Dinner?” Harper’s Weekly: November 26, 1881 (click to enlarge).

Last week we posted about the bizarre timing of early American Thanksgiving celebrations (i.e. sitting down to a turkey feast in June or July) and how, even into the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was no standard date to celebrate the holiday in the United States.

Until Lincoln issued his national proclamation in 1863, it was the responsibility of governors to determine the date of Thanksgiving in their respective states. We did some combing back through Missouri’s history and matched up MO’s Thanksgiving dates with significant dates in the lives of the Campbells. Here’s what we came up with – the date of that year’s Thanksgiving day is listed, followed by a note about what the Campbells had going on that week.

November 29, 1844 (Last Thursday in November): Robert Campbell Jr. died two days earlier on November 27 of the measles. He was two years and eight months old.

December 25, 1845 (yep. They had Thanksgiving on Christmas): The Campbells were living in their first St. Louis home by this point, an attached row house downtown. Today Ballpark Village sits in its place.

December 3, 1846 (First Thursday in December): Well, at least it wasn’t on Christmas day this year.

November 25, 1847 (Last Thursday in November): Virginia gave birth to Hugh Campbell, the third child to be given the name after the deaths of his two older brothers, ten days earlier on November 15. Hugh would be one of just three of the family’s children to see adulthood, managing the family estate after his parents’ deaths and dying at age 84 in 1931.

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“The Great Fire of 1849”

1849 (Missouri records show no Thanksgiving proclamation issued this year, so either the Governor or the state archivists dropped the ball. Our best guess is that it was observed on the last Thursday of the month): The Campbells weren’t even in St. Louis that November. 1849 was a bad year to be in the city, there was a enormous fire that wiped out most of downtown (Robert and Virginia’s home escaped, but his office near the riverfront did not) as well as a terrible cholera epidemic (caused by unsanitary drinking water) that killed their eldest son James. The Campbells packed up and headed to Philadelphia for several months to escape, and Virginia gave birth to their daughter Mary in September of that year.

November 20, 1853 (Last Thursday in November): Hazlett Campbell was born three days later on November 23.

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Hazlett Campbell (1853-1856). Another son named Hazlett would be born in 1858 and lived until 1938.

November 20, 1856 (Third Thursday in November): The same Hazlett Campbell dies on  his third birthday, three days after Thanksgiving on November 23.

December 31, 1857 (New Year’s Eve, Last Thursday in December): Grab your party hats and noisemakers, smooch that special someone, and shovel in a couple forkfulls of turkey and dressing to ring in the New Year.

November 26, 1863 (Last Thursday in November): Abraham Lincoln’s national Thanksgiving proclamation. Following his lead, Presidents would annually proclaim Thanksgiving dates until Congress passed a law in 1941. (read more about that in last week’s post)

As you can see, Thanksgivings were a mix of happy and sad times at the Campbell House (and often at wildly different times of the year). The family was rejoicing over births and concurrently celebrating other holidays like Christmas and the New Year. But they were also dealing with the deaths of their children, disease, and the dangerous conditions of city living in the 19th century. Count clean water, safe conditions and healthy children among your list of “things I’m thankful for” when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year!

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“Thanksgiving Dinner” Harper’s Weekly: December 5, 1857 (click to enlarge). Thanksgiving was on New Year’s Eve in Missouri this year.

 

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Thanksgiving… in July?

Some of the most popular imagery associated with Thanksgiving is, of course, Pilgrims. But when we scroll back through history, the way in which those early Americans celebrated Turkey Day looks quite different from our modern traditions. For one thing, Thanksgiving was not always a Thursday (or even a November) holiday.

Some fun facts about America’s first celebrations of Thanksgiving:

  • The famous first celebration took place in mid-October 1621 (not November) and probably lasted several days (which we wish was still the case).
  • The next Thanksgiving, in 1623, was held in JULY (not November).
  • The first officially “proclaimed” Thanksgiving was held in Charlestown, Massachusetts Bay Colony on June 29, 1676 (also not November. Seeing a trend here?)
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A steaming hot plate of turkey and stuffing in July? Sure, why not.

Obviously there weren’t any hard and fast rules on when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. So how, you might ask, did we end up with a scheduled Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November?

By the time of the American Revolution, various colonies had been celebrating Thanksgiving on various days at various times of the year, but usually coinciding with the Fall harvest. In 1777 (after the Battle of Saratoga), George Washington and the Continental Congress followed the lead of several colonies and declared the first nationwide Thanksgiving on Thursday, December 18. Twelve years later, in 1789, President Washington issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, November 26 to be the first official Thanksgiving in the newly established independent nation.

Fast forward to the 1850s and Thanksgiving had become an annual tradition in most states, along with the associated turkeys, pumpkins and big meals with extended family. However, the governor of each state determined their own Thanksgiving dates rather than relying on an official decree from the federal government. Can you imagine trying to line up your Thanksgiving get together with out of state relatives whose states celebrate on different weeks? By the time of the Civil War, frustration with this lack of unanimity and increased anxiety associated with the war encouraged President Abraham Lincoln to make George Washington’s Thanksgiving official, designating it on the last Thursday of November.

A quote from President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation (1863):

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

After that, Presidents would annually decree that Thanksgiving was to fall on the last Thursday in November (with just a couple exceptions) until 1939. That year, in an effort to get holiday spending and the associated economic boost started a week earlier, FDR decided to move Thanksgiving to the next-to-last Thursday of the month. This really threw people for a loop and caused confusion throughout the country as people and companies tried to rearrange their calendars to fit the new date.

Due to ongoing confusion with the holiday calendar, Thanksgiving was officially designated as not the last or the third, but the FOURTH Thursday of November by Congress in 1941, making life a whole lot simpler for all of us today. Generally this means that Thanksgiving falls on the last Thursday of the month, except for the occasional years which have five Thursdays in November.

So this month, when you have the fourth Thursday off from work and drive three hours for dinner at Grandma’s house, remember how long it took America to come to an agreement on when to celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s another thing to add to you list of things you’re thankful for… would you really want to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner in July?

**Thanks to CHM Senior Researcher Tom Gronski (Intrepid Researcher Tom™) for pulling together this information – we’ll be back next week with some more of his research on the Campbells and Thanksgiving.

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An early 20th century Thanksgiving postcard from the collection of the Campbell House Museum.

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Happy Thanksgiving from CHM

A big thank you and a recipe:

2012 has been an extraordinary year for us at Campbell House, and we have lots to be thankful for:

  • Our guests. More of you have come through the house this year than ever before, and we’re glad you let us share our story with you. We appreciate your support, and please keep coming. We try to have something new and exciting to appeal to just about everyone, and your continued interest and attendance helps us keep the doors open. It’s our esteemed pleasure to be here for you.
  • All of our volunteers, including docents, board members, researchers, garden help and gift shop staff. Much of the work around here is done by people who like Campbell House so darn much they come here unpaid just to lend a hand. We couldn’t keep this place in tip-top shape without your help, and we’re lucky to have you.
  • St. Louis. Robert and Virginia liked St. Louis enough to call it home, and we’re proud to maintain and share their house in such a wonderful city. We’re still humbled by the outpouring of encouragement after our burglary over the summer. This really is the best city on earth. (The Campbells were on to something when they bought this place.)

In case you need a recipe for your turkey tomorrow, here’s one of Virginia’s specialties: Boiled Turkey.

Transcribed:

Take grated bread, 1/4 lb butter, cream, chopped oysters, sweet marjoram
pepper & salt & nutmeg mixed up the yolks of 3 eggs. Stuff it, flour it
& tie it up in a cloth, boil it an hour and a quarter.

[If you’re brave enough to try it, send pictures. And a review….]

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Campbell House!

 

 

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