Cracked has touched on this subject before, so we assume you know the Thanksgiving phenomenon was pushed squealing out of New England and birthed into America at large by magazine editress Sarah Hale. It would be like if Cosmopolitan spent two decades pushing Talk like a Pirate Day, which would actually be that magazine's least crazy advisory.
In a period when women's liberation was being allowed to choose your own husband, Hale was too busy doing more before 5 a.m. than most armies do all day to realize she was oppressed. She edited one of the most popular magazines in the country, founded Vassar College, authored "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and had a few schemes to end slavery without rupturing the country.
Brought to you by sex!
She was one of the five women strong enough to carry fetal Teddy Roosevelt to term.
As you might expect of a woman with five kids, Mrs. Hale knew the secret to a happy marriage is frequent genetic exchange. As North and South bickered "Slavery is immoral," versus "Mmmmaaaybe, but it's really useful to us," Hale told America to get a room. She frequently published stories about Southerners and Northerners overcoming their faults (slavery, Irishness) to pursue common goals (new flavors of pie, heaving bosoms).
All hope for the future rests on this.
For 17 years, Hale nagged governors and presidents to forge a little common culture (again: pie). It wasn't till halfway through the Civil War that Lincoln figured it was worth a shot.
Admittedly, this joke WAS expected.
The problem was the South already had a Thanksgiving.
Even though Thanksgiving as we celebrate it does stem from the loose New England tradition perpetuated by the Northern states, in 1861 Jefferson Davis proclaimed a thanksgiving, but his was a day of fasting and humiliation.
Brought to you by oligarchy!
Not as fun to celebrate.
Then in September of 1862, a full year before Sarah Hale wrote this letter to Lincoln that led to our non-slavey Thanksgiving, Davis commemorated two military victories by proclaiming, in much more familiar language, a day of thanksgiving.
But hold up, Johnny Reb, because Lincoln was declaring so many T-days, it's easier to ask what he wasn't thankful for. (The answer, of course, is Mary Todd Lincoln.) Though he proclaimed traditional Thanksgiving a month after Davis, Lincoln had issued a different one in July, and one even earlier than Davis in 1862.
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Their calendar was lousy with thanks.
Anyway, the whole question is moot, because Washington had declared his first presidential Thanksgiving in 1789, and one as a general in 1777, the same month the Continental Congress set theirs. Like we said, people had more gratitude back then, and less Dunlap-belly.
So really, this holiday should be celebrated by burning "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne in effigy.
As early as whatever century Alexander Q. Hamilton was President of England*, he was ordering colonists to ingest copious amounts of turkey in a bizarre medical experiment, proclaiming, "No Citizen of the United States should refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." However, this may have been a feint to convince Aaron Burr he didn't give a damn what happened to Burr's turkey hostages.
Cracked paid for this; might as well run it.
The weird thing is, the first dish to emerge as a traditional Thanksgiving entree was pork ribs, not turkey.
Unless that's exactly what the Pork Council wants us to believe.
That's the Chicago way!
Unlike turkey, which could feed a hard-working farm family of 10 at one feast (or John Madden at brunch), a pig takes a lot of eating. Who wants to eat all their bacon for the year on one day? Late autumn was the best time to butcher because the pig had fattened up for winter, and the whole world was an icebox.
Besides, you gotta eat special. Hang out in the forest for 10 minutes and a turkey will pick a fight with you because it stupidly thinks it's still a dinosaur. Eating the same thing you always do on your big feast day? That's like a wedding night where nobody hops in the sex-swing. But now we get pork all year-round, families are smaller, and it's turkey that's a pain (hey, it's a big bird.)
By 1857, turkey had become a traditional part of Thanksgiving dinner ... but only in New England, where tight-fisted Yankees will suppress any smile if it saves a dollar. Of course, traditional Thanksgiving feasts vary by your locale and culture. A San Franciscan may eat dungeness crab, a resident of Maine might hunt venison because he's in a Live-Action Role Playing club, while a vegetarian will swallow tofurkey and his own hollow arguments that it really does taste just as good.
Who dares awaken the Cosmic Crab? Speak thy name, astral traveler!
So there's some gnosis for ya. The important thing is that the idea of Thanksgiving -- throwing an arm around your loved ones, busting a gut and appreciating both -- is still the truth. The best way we can honor that idea is to spread it around in practice. This season, give your fellow man something to be thankful for. Perhaps one of your homeless friends has become desperate enough to accept the canned food you don't want to eat. Or maybe a neighborhood child needs your help buying cigarettes. If you know any Native Americans, remind them that you haven't killed their family this year, and they should show some gratitude.
For more from Brendan, check out 6 Pro-Gay Marriage Arguments for Fighting With Crazy People and 7 Comic Characters Who Outlasted the Trends That Made Them.