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Page Three

At the turn of the century, some Victorians felt compelled to modernize Thanksgiving a bit by updating the menu with the addition of some European elegance. The Dutch oven was quickly replacing the hearth. This new feature in most homes made it much easier to cook evenly and so more elaborate menus were attainable. But one of the biggest inventions had nothing to do with heat; it was ice cream and it was all the rage. Oysters were also now quite stylish because they were seen as a luxury; whether they be fried, broiled, in soup, or scalloped. The railroads brought new foods to the table from around the country as well: oranges from Florida and lettuce from California.

All of these foods were served in a new fashion. Previously everything was served at the same time, but now the meal was divided into courses, interspersing traditional and new dishes. The wealthier families abandoned the traditional dishes all together, except the turkey, and served 12 courses of French haute cuisine including goose pate, canapes of caviar and ice cream.

Shortly after this Victorian push for elegance, there was a campaign to restore the traditional Thanksgiving led by middle class women concerned about the influx of immigrants and too many European customs. "Old-fashioned" was becoming fashionable and the menus once again included pumpkin pies while tables were decorated with images of pilgrims and turkeys. Soon after the US entrance into World War I, America was rocked by a lot more strife than the choice of what to serve for dinner and patriotism reached a new level of importance, so Thanksgiving became a patriotic holiday.

During the war, President Hoover and the Food Administration reduced consumption of wheat, meat and fats to help feed the troops, and food exports rose threefold. Soldiers on the front were given turkey dinners. Back home, people gathered to sing patriotic songs before returning home for dinner; all sports games were canceled. Tables were filled with corn and rye instead of wheat. The extravagant food of the Victorian era (oysters, oranges and tomatoes) was not served so they would not take up any room on the railroad cars that were filled with cargo for the war.

After the war, America enjoyed a comfortable prosperity. Sports games were rescheduled. Gimbel's and Macy's department stores launched large Thanksgiving Day parades with huge floats, dancing Pilgrims, and gigantic balloons, all followed by Santa Claus. These parades are still a part of today's celebrations. But in 1929, this prosperity came to an abrupt halt with the stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression when one-third of the labor force became unemployed. Thanksgiving Day was often a sad holiday during this time, with families trying to keep even a modicum of food on the table.

In 1939, towards the end of the Depression, the major retailers urged President Roosevelt to change the tradition of proclaiming Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November to the second to last Thursday to increase the number of days before Christmas. President Roosevelt complied and the announcement made headlines across the nation. He actually only proclaimed it for Washington, D. C. so governors were allowed to decide whether or not to acknowledge the date change. Many people were quite outraged nonetheless, as were many coaches who had already scheduled the big football game for the last Thursday. Sales results did not prove that the date change was effective enough to alter the over two-century-old institution. In 1941, Roosevelt, urged by many senators, signed a bill to fix the last Thursday of November as a national day of Thanksgiving.

On December 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed America at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; America was officially embroiled in World War II. Macy's canceled the parade since the gas that pulled the floats and the rubber that made up the balloons could not be wasted. Hundreds of thousands of GI's were stationed in England, and the British quickly learned about America's devotion to Thanksgiving when thousands of turkeys were delivered to the bases, courtesy of America. In response, King George quickly invited 200 officers and 25 nurses to the first Thanksgiving ever celebrated at Buckingham Palace and the US Flag was hung besides the Union Jack throughout London. Soldiers gathered at Plymouth, England to pay their respects to the Pilgrims who had colonized Plymouth, Massachusetts and some gathered in Southampton, England where the Mayflower set sail.

Later in the war, Thanksgiving dinners were packed up and brought to soldiers on the front lines of Italy, France and Africa. Back home, cooks flattened used tin cans for recycling and were not able to prepare many specialty foods. Few Americans traveled home for the holiday. Finally on Thanksgiving 1945, Americans celebrated peace and victory.

Thanksgiving has always been a day for family and friends to gather together and enjoy the football game on the television, catch up with everyone and eat a meal that is the ultimate in comfort. No matter what the year has brought or where we are, the traditions and customs of Thanksgiving remain a constant, unifying all Americans at home and around the globe, in our unique and very special holiday.


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