In Celebration of Thanksgiving
A Thanksgiving Meal
The American custom of Thanksgiving transcends cultures and stands as a truly American tradition. In the following excerpt, Herman Spector tells the story of a 1939 Jewish Thanksgiving in New York City. The story foreshadows the grim realities of World War II, yet to come:
We don't exactly have seasons here, but holidays are important. Before "Simkas-Torah" - that's the holiday of rejoicing in the giving of the Torah - they use ducks. During the Passover holidays the best of all poultry is used - all the luxury items; capons, turkeys, and the finest chickens. This past Thanksgiving - not a Jewish holiday, of course - but I believe more Jews bought turkeys than ever before. Why? In my opinion, it's due to particular world relations at this time, to conditions of oppression abroad and the desire to give thanks for living in America. During Chanukah week they prepare fat for the Passover, so specially fattened geese are brought to the city then, like the ones you saw outside. With the devout housewife, not to be able to have a genzil (goose) for the holidays would be a tragedy of the first order.
Mr. Spector's full story can be found in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Search on genzil to retrieve the document, "A Genzil for the Holidays."
A Thanksgiving Sermon
In African American communities in the late 19th century, Thanksgiving was celebrated in church with special Thanksgiving sermons.
The Rev. Benjamin Arnett was a prominent AME cleric in the Ohio AME Church.
In his Centennial Thanksgiving sermon on November 30, 1876, Arnett reflects on the triumphs and failures of American history and projects a promising course for America's future:
Following the tracks of righteousness throughout the centuries and along the way of nations, we are prepared to recommend it to all and assert without a shadow of doubt, that 'Righteousness exalted a nation'; but on the other hand following the foot-prints of sin amid the ruins of Empires and remains of cities, we will say that 'sin is a reproach to any people.' But we call on all American citizens to love their country, and look not on the sins of the past, but arming ourselves for the conflict of the future, girding ourselves in the habiliments of Righteousness, march forth with the courage of a Numidian lion and with the confidence of a Roman Gladiator, and meet the demands of the age, and satisfy the duties of the hour. Let us be encouraged in our work, for we have found the moccasin track of Righteousness all along the shore of the stream of life, constantly advancing holding humanity with a firm hand. We have seen it 'through' all the confusion of rising and falling States, of battle, siege and slaughter, of victory and defeat; through the varying fortunes and ultimate extinctions of Monarchies, Republics and Empires; through barbaric irruption and desolation, feudal isolation, spiritual supremacy, the heroic rush and conflict of the Cross and Crescent; amid the busy hum of industry, through the marts of trade and behind the gliding keels of commerce.
And in America, the battle-field of modern thought, we can trace the foot-prints of the one and the tracks of the other. So let us use all of our available forces, and especially our young men, and throw them into the conflict of the Right against the Wrong.
Then let the grand Centennial Thanksgiving song be heard and sung in every house of God; and in every home may thanksgiving sounds be heard, for our race has been emancipated, enfranchised and are now educating, and have the gospel preached to them!
A Thanksgiving Poem
Of course, Thanksgiving to most of us is a time of feasting with family. The Faro Caudill [family] eating dinner in their dugout, Pie Town, New Mexico, Lee, Russell, 1903- photographer. 1940 Oct. , from FSA/OWI Color Photographs, 1938-1944.
In 1938, Mrs. L.A. Sherman when interviewed for the American Life Histories project, shared a poem she wrote about Thanksgiving:
Thanksgiving Well I wonder what is up now,
My schoolmates with faces so bright,
I am going to find out somehow,
Or to bed I'll not go this night.
I was wondering today what [a's?] about,
But to ask questions I'm not allowed,
Till she told me to run out,
I thought I was making to large a crowd.
Oh I know now what's going on,
Tis' the great Thanksgiving day,
But I'll tell if ice was on the pond,
I would make it one of play.
The grocery boy was nearly crazy,
With loads of good things to eat,
He was at our house not a bit lazy,
And away he went looking so neat.
Of all the pies pudding and cake,
I spied on the old pantry shelf,
To go away from home I sure would hate,
I can't tell you all, No sir, not half.
Now dear playmates one and all,
Keep to that dinner, get a recall,
Thanks to Him who watches us while [asleeep
Blessed be His name to great and small.
So when tomorrow comes, with happy hearts,
We will be happy and all be gay,
Adieu to our [?] before we part,
Be glad for school days again to stay.
To see other poems and recipes by Mrs. Sherman, in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 , search Sherman Thanksgiving for the document entitled, "Mrs. L.A. Sherman."
Interested in doing more research?
Visit the American Memory homepage on the Library of Congress website to search for more historical materials available from the Library of Congress.
Other areas of interest on the Library of Congress website related to holidays and culture:
The American Folklife Center
The Local History and Genealogy Reading Room
The African-American Mosaic