10 Ways The History Of Thanksgiving Is Nothing Like You Imagined

4. Thanksgiving Became A Holiday To End The Civil War

One of the people Sarah Josepha Hale wrote was President Abraham Lincoln. She’d been worried about the Civil War, she explained, and felt that the US needed to “put aside sectional feelings” and rally around a common cause that everyone could agree upon. And, since Hale was a bit one-note, she figured the perfect cause was Thanksgiving.

Lincoln wasn’t the first president she’d written, but he was the first to listen to her. He took to her immediately. A mere five days after Hale wrote her letter, Thanksgiving was declared a federal holiday.[7]

Lincoln issued a declaration inviting people “in every part of the United States” to come together and give thanks for the good in the country, partly as a way to improve morale of Union troops and partly to try to rebuild a sense of national identity. He filled the holiday with pictures of Pilgrims coming together, trying to create an idea of united America.

The holiday caught on, in the end, both in the North and the South. But during the war, things weren’t exactly equal. While the Northerners carved up turkeys and enjoyed the feast, people in the South sat down for “starvation parties”—where people would do everything they enjoyed in peacetime except for the one thing they couldn’t afford: eat food.

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