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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