Lecture No. 5 (and quiz): November 2013



Jim Russell, Lecturer
Jim Russell, Lecturer

[dropcaps] I [/dropcaps] t seems as if just about every day of the year is a “National Day” of something, and the weeks and months are no different. For instance, today, Nov. 5, is National Bonfire Day – except in the UK, where it is Guy Fawkes Day. However, some days just seem to have greater significance for all of us. The month of November includes two days of national celebration and two days of special interest to many of us.

The first day of celebration is Nov. 11, the day selected to honor our nation’s veterans and to commemorate the end of “The War to end all Wars.” The guns fell silent at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. As has already been discussed tonight, we will honor those who serve with various ceremonies and in several ways throughout the country. Hopefully, each of us will take a moment to say a prayer for those who are serving, those who have served and those who have gone before us.

When I became your lecturer, I mentioned that July 3 this year marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Nov. 19 is significant for it is the 150th anniversary of the dedication of what is now the National Cemetery at Gettysburg and President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal words, that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish. Today is Election Day; hopefully, we all voted.

The second day of significance this month is Nov. 22, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Two major questions remain about that event: Do you remember where you were when you heard the news, and was Lee Harvey Oswald the lone gunman or one in a conspiracy? I know where I was, and the second question might never be answered. We still don’t know everything about the Lincoln assassination.

The second day of celebration is Thanksgiving. This day of thanks is truly a North American celebration, observed in both Canada (on the second Monday of October) and in the United States (on the fourth Thursday in November). It is the day that we acknowledge and give thanks for all the good things that our God has showered upon his people.

The holiday has its origins in our European roots and was celebrated as far back as the reign of Henry VIII when it was instituted as a replacement for the Catholic Holy Days (more than 100 of them) that were no longer observed by the Church of England. For the next three centuries, various days were designated as a day of thanksgiving, most of which had nothing to do with a harvest but rather for the birth of a future king, a victory in a specific battle or some other auspicious event.


The first observance in North America was around 1578, when the explorer Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find the Northwest Passage, held his thanksgiving in thanks for surviving the long journey from England through the perils of storms and icebergs. It was on his third and final voyage that he held a formal ceremony in Frobisher Bay near Baffin Island. That is in what is now part of Canada in the Arctic Ocean.

We trace our celebration to the one held at Plymouth Plantation in 1621. The people we refer to as Pilgrims had arrived the previous fall, dropping anchor in Provincetown Harbor on Nov. 11, 1620. They actually set foot on North America a few days later in what now is Plymouth, Mass.

Tradition says they were befriended by a local Indian, Squanto, who greeted them in English. taught them how to fish the local waters and to plant corn using fish as fertilizer. Sometime in the fall of 1621, the colonists decided to give thanks for surviving the first year. The local native population became alarmed when they heard the firing of weapons in the woods and sent a band of about 90 warriors to investigate. The Indians soon realized that the colonists were hunting in preparation for a big feast. Always ready to party, the Wampanoag joined the hunt and stayed three days, eating and celebrating with the Pilgrims. No one knows what was served that first Thanksgiving, but it was nothing like what we will sit down to this Nov. 28. Two years later, Gov. William Bradford, the leader of the colony, called for a religious celebration of Thanksgiving.

The celebration didn’t become a somewhat annual event until 1863, when President Lincoln called for a national day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. It was his second such proclamation that year, the first being to mark the victory at Gettysburg. Over the years, local communities had held celebrations or religious observances at different times, usually during autumn. At various times thereafter, the sitting president would issue a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving sometime in November, usually the fourth or last Thursday. Finally, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made what had become an annual proclamation, and Congress made it an official holiday in 1941  after finally agreeing on the day, the fourth Thursday instead of the last Thursday. It only took our Congress two years to resolve that weighty problem.

At the end of one of my first meetings as a Knight, I believe it was Brother Jim Kowalski who asked all of us at least 25 questions about the Knights. Following his example, I have a quiz of true-false questions about Thanksgiving. It is short, only 10 questions, and I made it true-false so everyone has a 50-50 chance of getting the correct answer. I did not make this up but found it when I was researching for my talk. And to make it even easier, I’ve already given you the answers to some of the questions. Feel free to moan and groan at any time.

thanksgiving-turkey1. Thanksgiving is held on the final Thursday of November each year.

False: In 1863, President Lincoln designated the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. However, in 1939, after a request from the National Retail Day Goods Association, President Roosevelt decreed that the holiday should always be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month (and never on the occasional fifth Thursday, as occurred in 1939) in order to extend the holiday shopping season. The decision sparked great controversy and was still unresolved two years later, when the House of Representatives passed a resolution making the last Thursday in November a legal national holiday. The Senate amended the resolution, setting the date as the fourth Thursday, and the House eventually agreed.

2. One of America’s founding fathers thought the turkey should be the national bird.

True: In a letter sent to his daughter in 1784, Benjamin Franklin suggested the wild turkey would be a more appropriate national symbol for the newly independent United States than the bald eagle (which had earlier been chosen by the Continental Congress). He argued the turkey was “a much more respectable bird, a true original native of America” and “though a little vain and silly, a bird of courage.”

3. In 1863, President Lincoln became the first American president to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving.

False: George Washington, John Adams and James Madison all issued proclamations urging Americans to observe days of thanksgiving, both for general good fortune and for particularly momentous events (the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in Washington’s case, the end of the War of 1812 in Madison’s).

4. Macy’s was the first American department store to sponsor a parade in celebration of Thanksgiving.

False: The Philadelphia department store Gimbels had sponsored a parade in 1920, but the Macy’s parade that launched four years later soon became a Thanksgiving tradition and the standard kickoff to the holiday shopping season. The parade became even more well known after it was featured prominently in the hit film “Miracle of 34th Street” (1947), which shows actual footage of the 1946 parade. In addition to its famous, giant balloons and floats, the Macy’s parade features live music and other performers, including the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and cast members of well known Broadway shows.

5. Turkeys are slow moving birds that lack the ability to fly.

False (kind of): Domesticated turkeys (the type eaten on Thanksgiving) cannot fly, and their pace is limited to a slow walk. Female domesticated turkeys, which are typically smaller and lighter than males, can move somewhat faster. Wild turkeys, conversely, are much smaller and more agile. They can reach speeds of up to 20-25 miles per hour on the ground and fly for short distances at speeds approaching 55 mph. They also have better eyesight and hearing than their domestic counterparts.

6. Native Americans used cranberries, now a staple of many Thanksgiving dinners, for medicinal purposes as well as cooking.

True: According to the Cape Cod Growers’ Association, which is one of the country’s oldest farmers organizations, Native Americans used cranberries in a variety of foods, including “pemmican” (a nourishing, high protein combination of crushed berries, dried deer meat and melted fat). They also used it them as a medicine to treat arrow punctures and other wounds and as a dye for fabric. The Pilgrims adopted these uses for the fruit and gave it a name – “craneberry” – because its dropping, pink blossoms in the spring reminded them of a crane.

7. The movement of the turkey inspired a ballroom dance.

True: The turkey trot, modeled on that bird’s characteristic short, jerky steps, was one of the popular dance styles that emerged during the late 19th and early 20th century in the United States. The two-step, a simple dance that required little or no instruction, was quickly followed by such dances as the one-step, the turkey trot, the fox trot and the bunny hug, which could all be performed to the ragtime and jazz music popular at the time. The popularity of such dances spread like wildfire, helped along by the teachings and performances of exhibition dancers like the famous husband-and-wife team of Vernon and Irene Castle.

8. On Thanksgiving Day 2007, two turkeys earned a trip to Disney World.

True: On Nov. 20, 2007, President George W. Bush granted a “pardon” to two turkeys, named May and Flower, at the 60th annual National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation held in the Rose Garden at the White House. The two turkeys were flown to Orlando, Fla., where they served as honorary grand marshals of the Disney World Thanksgiving Day parade. The current tradition of presidential turkey pardons began in 1947 under Harry Truman, but the practice is said to have informally begun with Abraham Lincoln, who granted a pardon to his son Tad’s pet turkey.

9. Turkey contains an amino acid that makes you sleepy.

True: Turkey does contain the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is a natural sedative, but so do a lot of other foods, including chicken, beef, pork, beans and cheese. Though many people believe turkey’s tryptophan content is what makes people feel sleepy after a big Thanksgiving meal, it is more likely the combination of fats and carbohydrates that most people eat with turkey, as well as large amounts of food consumed (not to mention alcohol, in some cases), makes most people feel like following their meal up with a nap.

10. The tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving started with the first National Football League game on the holiday in 1934.

False: The American tradition of college football on Thanksgiving is pretty much as old as the sport itself. The newly formed American Intercollegiate Football Association held its first championship game on Thanksgiving Day in 1876. At the time, the sport resembled something between rugby and what we think of football today. By the 1890s, more than 5,000 club, college and high school football games were taking place on Thanksgiving, and championship match-ups between schools like Princeton and Yale could draw up to 40,000 fans. The NFL took up the tradition in 1934, when the Detroit Lions (recently arrived in the city and renamed) played the Chicago Bears at the University of Detroit stadium in front of 26,000 fans. Since then, the Lions game on Thanksgiving has become an annual event except during the World War Ii years (1939-44).


Jim Russell