Friday, November 8, 2013

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the 1940's

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, there is nothing better than the old traditions of spending time around good food and loved ones. Unfortunately, with the hustle and bustle of today's society, most of the country has seemed to neglect time spent around the dinner table as people get busier and more modern conviences remove that quality time in the kitchen or around the television set.

Even though most people can not help the busyness of their lives, most still try to make an effort to spend quality time with family and enjoy that 16 hour cooked meal mom or grandma slaved over in the kitchen. Yet, I find it fasicnating to look back at the old traditions and how people celebrated the holiday starting with the 1940's when the country was at war, futures were uncertain, and many families had plenty to be thankful for.

These were the days before the take over of television, computers, or bargain shopping wars. Instead the home scene was completely different where men were either reading the newspaper or listening to radio programs, the kids were playing outside, and the women were all busy at work setting the table and getting everything ready while everyone else waited to be called to dinner.  In many rural parts of America, a hunting expedition was -- and still is -- a tradition on Thanksgiving morning where the men would go out and hunt down their own turkey and bring it back for the women to prepare and cook.


The world had been suffering from the Great Depression for a decade, the Second World War had erupted in Europe, and the U.S. economy continued to look bleak. In 1939 U.S. retailers begged then president Franklin D. Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving up a week to increase the shopping days before Christmas, which he agreed to do. FDR considered it a small change, however, when he issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation with the new date, there was an uproar throughout the country. Many governors did not agree with FDR's decision to change the date and refused to follow him and the country became split on which Thanksgiving date they should observe.

Though the confusion caused many frustrations across the country, the question remained as to whether the extended holiday shopping season caused people to spend more, thus helping the economy. The answer was no. Businesses reported that the spending was approximately the same, but the distribution of the shopping was changed. For those states who celebrated the earlier Thanksgiving date, the shopping was evenly distributed throughout the season. For those states that kept the traditional date, businesses experienced a bulk of shopping in the last week before Christmas.

In 1940, FDR again announced Thanksgiving to be the second-to-last Thursday of the month. This time, 31 states followed him with the earlier date and 17 kept the traditional date and confusion over two Thanksgivings continued. 

President Lincoln had originally established the Thanksgiving holiday in order to bring the country together, but the confusion over the date change was tearing it apart. On December 26, 1941, Congress finally passed a law declaring that Thanksgiving would occur every year on the fourth Thursday of November.

President Harry Truman Pardoning a Turkey

A typical 1940's style Thanksgiving dinner also looked slightly different than the traditional ones many families have today. Menu items did include the traditional turkey, ham, and cranberry sauce but also consisted of lesser know sides such as chestnut stuffing, brussels sprouts, cheese wafers, frozen pudding, plum pudding, romaine lettuce salad, or hot mince pie.

Cooking, eating, drinking, and talking around the table was truly an all day affair back then as most Americans were just trying to preserve their way of live during a time of grief and anxiety as loved ones were off at war.

Because of the ongoing war efforts during most of the decade, the country wanted to make sure that its troops were not left out of being able to celebrate the holiday as well. On November 7, 1946, the New York Times even printed an article titled "Turkeys Sent to GI's" stating that ten million pounds of turkey, purchased since last July were on their way to American troops all over the globe by War Department, which allowed them to have a little bit of home cooking while overseas.

Another tradition that was created out of this era was napkins and other paper decorations printed with images of turkeys, Pilgrims, Native Americans, and other familiar icons started making their presence on the shoppers' scene. Holiday candles in the shape of traditional Thanksgiving symbols also became a part of decorating many American homes during the 1940's.

Many common magazine ads you would have seen back then:

How will you be celebrating your Thanksgiving holiday?


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