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Bryan Warrick

Even though it’s still a week away, Thanksgiving is a holiday of great importance to this nation and has a lot more history to it than people think. The day when Americans stuff their faces and get fat, at least more than they do on most days, is not just a holiday for eating. And it is not just a holiday celebrating the Pilgrims and Native Americans of Plymouth Colony. Both historically and traditionally, this holiday is one of the most meaningful.

Most people associate Thanksgiving with the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620. It’s great to think of Europeans and Native Americans working together and coming together over a large feast. It is a great image for the early history of what would eventually become the United States. Though it helps to forget that within 100 years, most of the Native Americans in the area had been destroyed.

But Hallmark images and wars aside, the actual history of the holiday is even more interesting and much more modern than people think.

The tradition started, not in 1620, but in 1863 right in the middle of the Civil War. And it had nothing to do with Pilgrims or Native Americans. Instead, it was a holiday proposed by President Abraham Lincoln to encourage the American people to give thanks and increase the nation’s morale. It was also in part to help the Americans celebrate the victories the Union Army had won that year, especially the battles fought at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

The holiday for giving thanks continued throughout the war and beyond, as people celebrated the return of soldiers and the victory of the Union. As the years and decades went by, the holiday became more popular, especially when advertisements started to link Thanksgiving to the Pilgrims and the earlier days of the nation, something that the holiday originally had nothing to do with.

The holiday changed very little after that, with the exception of a date change implemented by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s to try and stimulate the economy, but other than that, Thanksgiving remained much the same.

Nowadays, Thanksgiving seems to be becoming the forgotten holiday. Stores, malls and even radio stations skip it entirely, going from celebrating Halloween straight to Christmas.

Some say it’s because the holiday is not politically correct. There are even protests against it by American Indian rights groups that feel that Thanksgiving, along with holidays like Columbus Day, mark the beginning of the end of American Indian culture and way of life. Others say it is not as popular because it cannot be commercialized. All you buy is food. No presents, no costumes, nothing that advertisers can really push, so they ignore it.

This simply isn’t right. Thanksgiving is important because it does focus on America’s past, not just Pilgrims and Native Americans, but the hard days of the Civil War and the Great Depression. No other major holiday focuses that much on our own national history.

And we should love it more because it cannot be commercialized. It really is the holiday that brings family and friends together for a big dinner: nothing superficial, just a fun time with good food. What’s more American than that?

Keep Christmas away for a little while longer and celebrate a holiday that means something to all of us, as Americans and as members of a family. It’s a holiday that stretches back to President Lincoln, makes us believe that people of different backgrounds can come together and help each other like the feast of the Plymouth Colony showed us, and makes us appreciate what we have.

So celebrate Thanksgiving and don’t forget what the holiday is all about: being thankful for what you have.

Bryan Warrick is a general reporter for the BG News at Bowling Green State University.