Monday, November 20, 2017

The Many Thanksgivings of Texas

Did you know El Paso, Texas now lays claim to the first Thanksgiving in North America? Yup, it’s true according to the Texas State Historical Association’s TEXAS ALMANAC. First observed in April 1989, the day honors Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate who, with his expedition members, held a day of thanksgiving on April 30, 1598.

One of Oñate’s followers wrote of the celebration, “We built a great bonfire and roasted the meat and fish, and then all sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before . . .”

Hmm, sounds like they stuffed themselves, a lot like we do on Thanksgiving Day. Of course they were also grateful for a short break in their difficult journey which continued up the Rio Grande, eventually reaching the Santa Fe area.

Texas has another claim to the first Thanksgiving. In 1959 a marker was placed outside the town of Canyon declaring the expedition of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado celebrated the first feast of Thanksgiving in nearby Palo Duro Canyon in May 1541. However, research indicates grapes and pecans were gathered for the feast, and neither grow in the canyon. The feast might actually have been held farther south, probably Blanco Canyon on a fork of the Brazos River. It’s also possible the day was not a special thanksgiving, but rather to celebrate the Feast of the ascension.

While Texas is hardly the only claimant to the First Thanksgiving title – several other states insist their ancestors celebrated the first one – the Lone Star State is one of a few states that celebrated two thanksgivings in the same year, one week apart. You see, the first national Thanksgiving was set in 1863, during the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

All well and good until 1939 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. The country was still in the grip of the Great Depression, and Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would provide a longer shopping period before Christmas. He hoped increased sales and profits for merchants would help spur recovery from the Depression. Within two years, Congress passed his decree into law.

However, Republicans decried the change as an affront to Lincoln’s memory. People started calling the fourth Thursday holiday “Franksgiving”. Many football teams traditionally played their final games on the last Thursday in November, and their schedules could not instantly be changed. Since a presidential declaration was not legally binding, Roosevelt’s change was disregarded by 22 states. Some, including Texas, decided to make both dates government holidays.

In 1940 and 1941, November had four Thursdays, and Roosevelt declared the third one to be Thanksgiving. As in 1939, some states went along with the change while others stuck with the traditional last-Thursday date.

"Until 1956, Texas’ official state Thanksgiving holiday was the last Thursday in November. In some years, that was a week after the national holiday, which was cussed in Texas as a federal abomination."  Mark Hoffer

Lyn Horner is a multi-published, award-winning author of western historical romance and romantic suspense novels, all spiced with paranormal elements. She is a former fashion illustrator and art instructor who resides in Fort Worth, Texas – “Where the West Begins” - with her husband and a gaggle of very spoiled cats. As well as crafting passionate love stories, Lyn enjoys reading, gardening, visiting with family and friends, and cuddling her furry, four-legged children.

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Newsletter:  Lyn’s Romance Gazette
Website:  Lyn Horner’s Corner 


  1. Love it! Leave it to Texas to be different...I did not know much of this, except I did know the date for Thanksgiving had been moved more than once.
    And little did they know....that President Roosevelt, in moving Thanksgiving to an earlier date to provide..what?...more shopping days! You gotta love it.Thanks, Lyn

  2. Celia, I got a few laughs from reading a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article about the Texas reaction to Roosevelt's date change. It's surprising how irate many Texans were over it when you consider the original date was set by Lincoln during the Civil War.

  3. I like that Thanksgiving Dinner menu you posted! I had no idea Texas was the first to have a Thanksgiving dinner in North America.

  4. Glad you like the menu, Morgan. I actually found the graphic online (on so I can't take credit for it. That said, I like it too. As for the first Thanksgiving, I think we should credit our Native Americans who no doubt thanked their gods for good hunts and crops eons before either the Spaniards or the Pilgrims arrived.

  5. I have often thought Texas was the state of raging individualists. Your article certainly highlights how different and contrary Texans can be...and I mean that in the most positive way. In a time when there are so many who would not dare disrupt the common held beliefs and accepted norm, Texans speak up, take a stand, and take action. So I am not the least bit surprise by the state having two Thanksgivings. I am, however, not going to make two turkeys with all the fixin's two weeks in a row. The second Thanksgiving will have to be with hot dogs and cole claw, and roasted marshmallows. Just sayin'...
    A most interesting blog, Lyn.


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