(NNPA)—Thanksgiving Day —a day of family gatherings to give thanks for our many blessings—has evolved into a day of turkey and football, as the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day rivalries fill the TV. Now, it threatens to be taken over by a shopping spree. This year, Wal-Mart has announced it will open its stores at 6 p.m. on Thursday to begin its “Black Friday” sales. Macy’s, Target, Kmart and others are all moving up their opening time on Thursday. Suddenly Thanksgiving dinner itself is at risk.
This lust for stuff is a stark contradiction to the origins of Thanksgiving. Days of thanksgiving were celebrated in England from the 1500s as part of the protestant reformation. This country traces a thanksgiving feast back most famously to 1621 when the Puritans in Plymouth Colony gave thanks for a bountiful harvest. At the founding of the union in 1789, George Washington issued the first national proclamation for a nationwide day of “thanksgiving and prayer.”
Over the next half century, the date of thanksgiving holidays varied from state to state, although most were associated with celebrating the harvest. It was largely a New England tradition, unknown in the South. The pressure for a nationwide holiday came not from retailers but from Sara Josepha Hale, a successful writer and orator and editor of the Godey’s Ladies Book, one of the most influential style magazines of its time. She lobbied hard for a national day of thanksgiving.