Thanksgiving may mean turkey and football to most Americans today, but it wasn't always so. The Old Sturbridge Village, located in Sturbridge, Mass., is an outdoor living history museum where historically costumed staff demonstrates the daily life of a rural early 19th-century New England town. They celebrate our nation's oldest holiday throughout Thanksgiving weekend, and have provided us with a few little-known facts about Turkey Day.
- Thanksgiving didn't become a national holiday until 1863, during the Civil War. Although Thanksgiving was celebrated on various dates on a state-by-state basis, it was Sarah Joseph Hale, editor of the popular magazine Godey's Lady's Book, who waged a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her advocacy and the need to find some good news during wartime convinced Abraham Lincoln to proclaim a national Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November.
- A woman's place is... with the knife. In the 19th century, women were expected to carve the turkey so that the feast would go smoothly. The current custom of assigning this task to the male head of the household cam later.
- Thanksgiving means wedding bells. In the 19th century, rural weddings still followed seasonal rhythms, and June weddings were almost unknown. Couples exchanged vows either in the early spring or waited until after the harvests.
- Thanksgiving means back-to-school. With the harvest complete, 19th century children began school the day after Thanksgiving and attended through March.
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