The One Day Above All Others: New England Thanksgiving

I have a book called ” Our Own Snug Fireside ” by Jane C. Nylander that focuses on the New England home from 1760-1860.  I highly recommend this book if you are a history enthusiast. 

The last chapter is entitled ” The One Day Above All Others: New England Thanksgiving” and I thought that you might enjoy a few snippets from it. All photos are taken from this book as well. 

The chapter, as well as the entire book, is extensive and detailed but here are a few points of interest in regards to Thanksgiving.

thanksgiving the large illustration

“The Thanksgiving holiday had achieved its traditional status long before the beginning of the nineteenth century. The editor of the Salem Observer explained it well in 1825, writing that “the anniversary of the good old Festival will ever be greeted with hearty welcome.”

As early as 1827, in her novel Northwood: A Tale of New England, Sarah Josepha Hale described the traditional feast with its array of foods featuring roasted turkey and other meats, and chicken and pumpkin pies, explaining that everyone was “proud of displaying his abundance and prosperity“.

Shortly after the publication of Northwood, Mrs. Hale campaigned vigorously to have Thanksgiving adopted as a National holiday, to be observed on the fourth Thursday in November. Mrs. Hale became the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1832 and she used the magazine as an effective propaganda vehicle in her campaign. The idea was finally adopted by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

Mrs. Hale felt that the choice of November for Thanksgiving celebrations was inspired. It makes ” the funeral faced month of November…wear a garland of joy…”

In order to fulfill the expectations of their families and to meet their own high standards, there was a great deal of work to be done. Caroline King remembered that “ preparations for the reception of the homecomers  were made for weeks beforehand. Stores of food sufficient for an army were bought, for everything was laid on large lines then. The pie closet was filled with apple, mince, squash and cranberry pies, and plum and Marlborough puddings, and the store closet was filled with good things. ”

In late November 1804. Samuel Holland advertised “articles necessary for Thanksgiving” in the Greenfield Gazette.  “St Croix & Jamaica Rum, French and Cider Brandy, Gin, Molasses, Loaf and Brown Sugars, by the 100 wt. or less, Hyson-Souchong & Bohea Teas, Pepper, Ginger, Pimento, Cinnamon, Nutmegs, Box Raisins, Coffee, Chocolate, and many other articles.”

Featuring turkey or chicken pie at Thanksgiving is certainly related to the fact that often the major butchering of the winter was done the following week, and fresh pork or beef was simply unavailable in many households.

In Oldtown Folks, Mrs Stowe defined children’s tasks: ” For as much as a week beforehand, we children were employed in chopping mince for pies to a most wearisome fineness, and in pounding cinnamon , allspice, and cloves in a great ‘ lignum-vitae’ mortar; and the sound of this pounding and chopping re-echoed throughout all the rafters of this old house.”

For many people, morning attendance at Meeting was an important part of Thanksgiving Day. Ministers prepared special sermons…

Whether people went to meeting or indulged in active sports there was still work to do in the kitchen and parlor on Thanksgiving morning.

Thanksgiving cooking around the hearth

Sometimes two tables would be set up. The dinner itself was the centerpiece of the day…the culmination of tremendous effort on the part of the women of the family. The meal, with its abundance of food might last as long as two hours, and all were expected to eat more than their fill.

Sarah Rice Goodman recalls ” a long table was spread in the largest room  with a table cloth of finest damask which hung in rich folds, and at every plate was a beautifully ironed napkin, a small roll and a tall glass of currant jelly. The silver and glass seemed to take on a higher polish and a large glass pyramid crowned the center of the table covered with almond custards and a small glass of strawberries and cream..”

Thanksgiving carving the turkey

Many prepared special baskets to be given to the poor. Jacob Abbot recalled the ” gratified pride” he had felt as his “mother stowed in the basket the little package of tea, with the pies and other little comforts which I was to carry to the lonely widow and to the hungry family in the neighborhood.”

As darkness fell, the fires were built up and an unusual number of candles were lighted. There were toasts and songs and games. Children looked at picture books and other parlor treasures and lively games erupted. If the weather cooperated, people might venture forth for a Thanksgiving sleighride; some attended informal dancing parties at private homes or organized Thanksgiving balls.

No matter how they might occupy themselves during the evening, Thanksgiving reminded everyone of the importance of the family. One author wrote ” The queen of this palace on Thanksgiving Day was Grandma Pratt. Everyone paid his respects to her first.”  After dinner was over and the young people were tired of their games , “they gathered about in a far-reaching circle, and clamored for grandma’s stories of their fathers and grandfathers , and of her own youth.”

Thanksgiving Family Gathered around the hearth


You might also enjoy :     Another Pillow & My Red Hutch  or Moon & Clouds


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Give Something Personal This Holiday Season

Give Something Personal This Holiday Season
If you have a digital camera-whether it’s your smart phone or your DSLR-chances are you have a lot of wonderful photos of the people you love. And there’s a pretty big chance that if you do, those photos haven’t seen the light of day since you first took them, posted them to Facebook, or picked that new wallpaper for your smart phone or computer.

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