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.
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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