Our lovely corner of Tennessee (in case you’re wondering, our corner is the upper East one) is full of transplants from all over the country. People move in for the beauty, the usually pleasant weather, the comfortable cost of living and the laid-back lifestyle. It’s a great place for families, too, with our country traditions.
But some of our most cherished traditions are transplanted here, just like many of our citizens. It might surprise you, but Thanksgiving was considered a Yankee holiday until pretty recently in our country’s history!
Even when the rest of the country—Michigan, New York, Ohio territories—were digging in to turkey dinners each fall in celebration of the early Massachusetts settlers, Tennessee didn’t join in. (Volunteers we might be, but Tennesseans have always marched to the beat of their own, mountain-made drum.) In fact, most of the South shunned Thanksgiving.
According to the website SeriousEats.com, an author by the name of Sara Josepha Hale launched a personal crusade in the 1800s to nationalize Thanksgiving as a holiday, to be set at one, unified date each November.
It’s difficult to imagine a country divided over a holiday like Thanksgiving, but in the mid-1800s, we were in a period of political, religious and cultural turmoil. Many Southerners considered Thanksgiving to be bound up in the push for Abolitionist views, and rebelled against the holiday. (Remember when we said Tennesseans march to our own beat? Many will be surprised to learn that a Quaker in Jonesborough, Tennessee published the first newspaper in the country devoted to the Abolitionist movement. It was called The Emancipator.)
Adding to the alienation most Southerners felt in regard to the holiday was the Thanksgiving feast itself, full of cranberries and pumpkin pie and generally fare that wasn’t typically seen on a Southern table.
Thanksgiving didn’t become universally accepted in America until after the Civil War. In fact, Abraham Lincoln himself tipped his hat (metaphorically) to the tenacious Sara Josepha Hale and ultimately declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday. As a result of the political tumult surrounding the War Between the States, Thanksgiving was only patchily observed, at best, in the South. Eventually, though, the lure of turkey dinners and the sweet homecoming that Thanksgiving offers to many families won out.
The traditional Southern Thanksgiving meal still includes recipes original to New England, like cranberry sauce and even oyster stuffing. Many Southerners still rebel a bit, though, adding in cornbread and pimiento wherever they can. Few things can bring people together like good food, and remembering that even us mountain-southerners wouldn’t be here without the first Yankees surviving their harrowing first winter makes us enjoy that second piece of pie even more.
So the next time you think your family talks about politics too much around the Thanksgiving dinner table, remember this fine holiday was adopted nationally during the Civil War! Political arguments are as American as pumpkin pie.
Check out DarleneReeves-Kline.com to find your perfect home for the holidays. And Happy Thanksgiving!