Influenced by the campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to politicians for around 40 years trying to make it an official holiday, Lincoln proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November in an attempt to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states. Because of the ongoing Civil War and the Confederate States of America’s refusal to recognize Lincoln’s authority, a nationwide roll-out of the Thanksgiving date was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s. These things happen when you try something new, right?
Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official holiday by proclamation in 1863, designating it as the last Thursday of November. Many southern states weren’t supportive of Thanksgiving at first. They were not happy about the federal government telling them to celebrate and felt that it was a “New England” holiday. They were still a bit miffed about the whole Civil War thing.
Despite Lincoln’s proclamation, the date of Thanksgiving was not fixed until 1941, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a bill setting the holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. He moved it up a week to help the economy by lengthening the Christmas shopping season.
Republicans were not down with this change, and retaliated by calling it “Democrat Thanksgiving” (or “Franksgiving”). They celebrated the following Thursday, calling that “Republican Thanksgiving.” Many Republican governors defied the change of date and observed the holiday on the last Thursday of the month, anyway. Republicans have some experience of being childish pre-Obama, it seems.
Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924 was held with live animals from the Central Park Zoo and was billed as “The Christmas Parade.” This was the parade for the next three years.
In 1927, Goodyear sponsored a giant balloon of Felix the Cat, starting that tradition. Until 1933, the balloons were just released to float off into the sky at the end of the parade and $100 was given by Macy’s to whomever found a deflated balloon.
That stopped when a pilot trying to grab a loose balloon crashed his plane and died. Mickey Mouse made his debut seven years later. Kermit the Frog came along in 1985. Snoopy, who joined the parade in 1968, holds the record for most appearances in the parade with seven.
The parade route was moved to its present starting point at 77th and Central Park West in 1946. It was first televised nationally in 1947, drawing respectable viewership. Fifty years ago, the parade was almost cancelled due to the assassination of JFK. But it was felt that the nation needed it so the show went on. Each year, approximately 3.5 million people line the streets to watch the parade live while another 50 million or so watch it on TV.
A Taste of Thanksgiving: Curious Facts About America’s Holiday by Christopher Forest
Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions by Pauline Campanelli and Dan Campanelli
Hawaiian Mythology by Martha Warren Beckwith
The Everything Christmas Book: Stories, Songs, Food, Traditions, Revelry, and More by Brandon Toropov, Sharon Gapen Cook, Marian Gonsior and Susan Robinson