Thanksgiving: Did you already know?

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is one of my favorite writers. He is the author of at least 20 books, including international bestsellers that include:

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989)
Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (1991)
The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words (1984)
The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way (1990)
A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)
Shakespeare: The World as Stage (2007)
On the Shoulders of Giants, Editor (2009)
Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society (2010)

Here is a brief excerpt from Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States (1998).

“When a celebration was deemed in order, the Puritans were delighted to let their hair down. The first Thanksgiving feast went on for three full days and involved, in addition to copious eating and drinking, such diversions as stoneball, a game similar to croquet, and competitions of running, jumping, arm wrestling, shooting, and throwing. No one knows quite when the first Thanksgiving took place, other than it was sometime between the beginning of October and the first week of November 1621. Nor was it regarded as the start of an annual tradition.

“No Thanksgiving appears to have been held the following year, and the Plymouth colony would not begin regular celebrations until almost the end of the century. For the rest of New England, Thanksgiving didn’t become an annual tradition until about the 1780s. For the nation as a whole, Thanksgiving wasn’t fixed as a holiday until President Lincoln so decreed it in 1863. The date he chose was August 6.

“The following year, it was moved, arbitrarily, to the last Thursday in November, where it has remained ever since, apart from a brief period during the Depression when it was brought forward several days to give stores an extra week of potential Christmas shopping.”


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