Below the Fold: The Other “First” Thanksgiving


You can thank Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War for Thanksgiving being a nationally observed holiday. Check out this week’s Thanksgiving Special episode of Below the Fold to learn about how Thanksgiving as we know it really got started and what we can still learn today from its origins.

Thanksgiving – a holiday filled with
Nostalgic traditions
Hours of football
Excessive amounts of food,
Drunk political tension with extended family
and guilt soaked memes reminding you on social media of this country’s violent history of unrelenting oppression of indigenous people for the last four hundred years

And whether you’re reciting or dismantling it, the legend of the “first thanksgiving” in 1621, where pilgrims and natives broke bread, tends to be the part of this holiday’s history that gets the most play this time of year.

But with the current political climate of division and partisanship, where serious thought pieces are being published on how we could equitably split up the U.S. into red and blue nations, it’s worth remembering that Thanksgiving was first turned into a nationally observed holiday at a point in our history where we were even more divided than we are now: the middle of the civil war.

Thanksgiving had been celebrated prior to that, but only sporadically and definitely not nationally. In fact, after 1815 the tradition basically faded from national consciousness.

It wasn’t until October 1863, after the bloodiest year of the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln called for a day of national thanksgiving in a proclamation saying that even “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled severity and magnitude,” that the nation had much to be thankful for, much to look forward to and that the day was coming when America would again be united.

Who knows if Lincoln thought Thanksgiving would become the tradition that it has. I mean, football wouldn’t even be created for another fifty years so how could he? But, nevertheless, Americans embraced the concept of a day of gratitude and feasting, and every president since Lincoln has declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Did the Proclamation of Thanksgiving end the civil war? No, definitely not.

Can thanksgiving solve our current bitter partisanship – no.

Can Trump hold a candle to Lincoln as a Unifier in Chief? (blank stare)

But it’s good to remember that the history of this holiday isn’t just pilgrims in funny hats, or gluttony or avoiding family drama. It’s history is also steeped in the belief that expressing gratitude can be an exceptionally healing act even when the whole world feels like it’s falling apart.

So, take a moment to reflect on the things so many of us can be grateful for: family, friends, health and that we can now officially start playing Christmas carols without getting yelled at.

I’m Kristin Brey and thanks for watching Below the Fold. Don’t forget to like, comment and share and also to subscribe at

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