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Thanksgiving not a Southern Holiday?

Some friends with really old Virginia roots told me about this but I've had no luck with any research. They said older relatives refused to celebrate "that Yankee holiday" and would go hunting or do something else instead.
Lincoln proclaimed a national T'giving Day in 1863 and then Roosevelt in 1939 changed the date but his order wasn't mandatory. It was scornfully referred to by some as "Franksgiving" and FDR wasn't a Southern favorite anyway. Twenty-two states did not recognize it but I couldn't find a list.

Are there any vestiges of this left? I imagine that this thinking would be found among those in their 80s and 90s.
Anybody know anyone who still thinks this way? Or have any historical references about this?

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  1. There are some who believe the first Thanksgiving was at The Berkley Plantation in Charles City, VA (oustide of Richmond), not Plymouth. I have lived in Virginia and North Carolina all of my life and Thanksgiving has always been celebrated. Since it's my least favorite holiday, not celebrating is a tradition I could get behind.

    17 Replies
    1. re: Janet from Richmond

      I wonder if there is any way that we can convince you to give Thanksgiving a chance. It's one of my favorite holidays because it prompts us to gather together and spend time appreciating all that we have. There are no gifts involved and relatively little fuss apart from the meal. It can be celebrated very casually or with elegance depending on your preference and if you don't like to cook local inns tend to do a terrific job at Thanksgiving!

      Our family has had a long tradition of including 'displaced' visitors (foreign students and the like) in our celebration and one of my favorite Thanksgivings was with a group of new friends when we'd recently moved and were too busy at work to travel home. Including friends in your family celebration or even gathering friends instead of relatives is a great way to manage if you're having any family problems or travel issues.

      For me, the only difficult thing about Thanksgiving is football. I'm not a fan but I'm perfectly willing to make sandwiches for the whole gang on Friday. However, the first time my in laws turned on my television on Thanksgiving day was a genuine shock. Over the years we've managed to minimize the television viewing when we share the holiday with them but it is still a struggle that blows my mind.

      I've usually been cooking for a good week and some of our guests have driven eight hours to come together and there's some clod who thinks we should all sit in front of the boob tube!

      Still it's a great holiday!

      1. re: Kater

        Thanksgiving is my husband's favorite holiday to he refuses to (a) go out or (b) cater. We always host. My first problem is I don't like the meal itself aside from the dressing and sweet potatoes. And I hate the work. I sit at the table and all I can think of is the hours of work ahead of me. I hate wrapping up the leftovers for everyone to take home and I hate looking at them days later when they get thrown out. We are a football family and that is the only aspect I really like. It would be even better if I got to relax. Hubby does most of the cooking (the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes). I make the green beans, cranberry sauce, gravy and dessert and my brother makes oyster stew. And when my husband cooks, the kitchen is a disaster and every pot and pan and dish will be used. Just once I'd like to be the person who arrives with wine and leaves with some leftovers prepared for me.

        1. re: Janet from Richmond

          OK, this is going to be a long row to hoe!

          In our house, I cook and my husband cleans. I have gotten better at cleaning as I go, but still the prospect of dealing with the mess I've created would absolutely floor me.

          But I do not confine myself to a traditional menu by any stretch of the imagination and I try to really balance do-ahead with on-the-spot dishes. I'm not sure how your husband would feel about deviating. In our family, one in-law (she and are both in-laws) had a very hard time processing the idea that the meal wouldn't include all of her family's traditions - and some of them were just plain weird like sliced cranberry jelly in the shape of a tin can - but she eventually settled in as a guest.

          It's funny but while I don't actually mind sharing the leftovers per se, I am really irritated when people expect me to drop everything and prepare take-away parcels for them to bring home. Luckily I have one sister-in-law who is sent from the heavens and loves to tidy up. She makes custom packets for these yahoos after first learning which dishes they're most interested in bringing home!

          Wait! Have you every discussed hiring a maid and butler service? It sounds like your husband is into the cooking and the hosting, so catering is out. But there is no reason that you can't hire 1,2 or 3 staff to come in and do everything you don't want to do. I love to set and decorate the table, but some people hate it and the butler services are happy to do that for you. They'll polish the glasses, clean the kitchen. Set and clear and even clean up. Then you could enjoy the football game without worrying about a sinkful of yucky dishes!

          1. re: Kater

            Aha! So "sliced cranberry jelly in the shape of a tin can" might be weird if you grew up in the NE but cranberries don't grow in the South or most of the US. The Ocean Spray marketing people persuaded America that we should have cranberries for T'giving and that's what they sold us.
            Until my aunt died at 93, if there was a turkey on the table, there better be a plate of that slimy stuff - even if it was July!

            A lot of what is thought of as "traditional" T'giving food is marketing or based on NE regional cooking. There are ethnic and regional variations, e.g. Italian families with a pasta course, Hispanic pavo recipes. Family customs evolve - I've had to add mashed potatoes (of all things!) to my South Louisiana menu to accommodate a Mid-Western son-in-law.

            I usually ask guests what is the one food that means T'giving to them. I end up with rice, mashed potatoes and sweet pototoes, two types of dressing and Lord knows how many pies (which I can usually talk others into bringing.) I'm thrilled to send the leftovers out the door!
            But nobody ever wants the cranberries!

            1. re: MakingSense

              I LOVE your idea about asking guests which dish typifies Thanksgiving for them. Had I asked in advance I could have found a lot of fun in the Can-berries, but it was off putting to be faulted for not serving them! And some of the best home cooking I've ever enjoyed has come from friends' family traditions.

              In my opinion, apart from giving thanks, the real reason for Thanksgiving is mashed potatoes! I see that you're not a fan, but I so enjoy mashed potatoes that I can only allow myself to have them twice a year; Thanksgiving and New Years. Left to my own devices, I would eat them on a plane, I would eat them in the rain, etc...

              We also try to include a few ethnic dishes as hors d'oeuvres. My son is Korean so I make pajeon, a savory pancake with seafood, each year and even the timid have come to look forward to it. The cousins have come to think of it as his special dish and it's helped them to see his ethnicity as a neat little tidbit rather than a big deal.

              Oh and Pies, this is where things get really weird. My husband's family requires coconut custard pie. If you let them bring it, it will come from your grocer's freezer case. But this must be a regional thing because in the Philadelphia area all of our good pie bakeries offer it at Thanksgiving. I happen to enjoy coconut custard pie but everyone knows it's not for Thanksgiving ; )

              Of course, I make mincemeat every year and unless my family joins us (usually we see them at Christmas) I eat it all alone while everyone else looks at me cross-eyed. I tried to convert a brother-in-law one year by explaining that I'd used vast quantities of rum to make it. He gave it a try, but was right back on the coconut custard!

              1. re: Kater

                Several years ago, I read an article that featured anthropologist Sidney Mintz talking about how family food choices at Thanksgiving were pretty powerful indicators of ethnic heritage, a family's feelings of (or aspirations to) "Americanness" and of regional food culture. I wish I could find the damn thing...my indexing needs an overhaul.

                1. re: Kater

                  My fiancés family had coconut custard pie and longneck pumpkin pie. My family did pumpkin using one pie brand from the can, pecan and usually apple.

                2. re: MakingSense

                  My mother said damn my new in-laws there will be a pasta course at Thanksgiving. We'll see because I don't see them getting into a multiple course meal.

                3. re: Kater

                  The maid service is an idea. I don't know how hard that would be for Thanksgivng. And I don't mind people taking the leftovers (I wish they would take all of them). I hate having to wrap them up for everyone (and of course I provide the Gladware, etc.) And Hubby would never deviate from the traditional. I had to fight long and hard to have my brothers sweet potatoes (which are fabulous) instead of the marshmallow kind. I have learned to write off Thanksgiving as an enjoyable day and just get through it. However, I love Christmas dinner. Hubby and my brother grill a beef tenderloin and we have salad and scalloped potatoes. It's elegant, easy and much more scrumptious than Thanksgiving dinner. And we get the leftovers and make steak subs with them.

                4. re: Janet from Richmond

                  Your situation sounds like parents'. It amazes me that year after year certain family members completely take the meal for granted and seem to have no idea how much trouble my parents go to--from cleaning, decorating, shopping and cooking to serving and then cleaning up. At the very least these people should contribute more than a bottle of wine or, if we're lucky, maybe a salad.

                  1. re: Glencora

                    My brother contributes oyster stew and sweet potatoes. My MIL contributes being a pain in the ass. She has never brought anything but attitude to any holiday dinner.

                  2. re: Janet from Richmond

                    You say hubby objects to catering but what about hiring a cleaning person for the day to clean up the mess? In our family when there is a big meal for a lot of people the hostess always has someone on hand in the kitchen with her.
                    I don't see how your husband could object to this. It would probably only cost $50 or so and it would be worth much more than that in terms of the grief it would save you.

                  3. re: Kater

                    I totally agree..you get from a holiday what you put into it...and there's something wonderful about giving thanks....
                    Thank you for sharing your families traditions...

                  4. re: Janet from Richmond

                    You still take the day off though, right??


                  5. I agree- my favorite Holiday. It is one of the few times of the year when the entire family- ( 25+) get together for a sit down meal. I do the Thanksgiving meal and the pies, and my brothers and SIL's do the appetizers, candies and other desserts.
                    It was always my dads favorite holiday (he passed away a few years ago), so maybe that is why my mom, brothers and I love it. And this love has passed onto our kids. Everyone has some favorite thing they like, and I make sure to prepare it to include with dinner ( which means making a small chicken for a non turkey eating neice!). We all get together, eat, enjoy the day, go for a walk and then watch football. Love it!

                    1. Btw, this year is an example of the difference between traditional Thanksgiving and Franksgiving...there were longtime holdouts in northern New England (I have the image of flannel-clad versions of Japanese warriors who hid out in the Pacific islands for decades after WW2 (aka The Big One), holding pitchforks instead of samuri swords) who only celebrated traditional Thanksgiving on the *last* Thursday of November, public holiday or not.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Karl S

                        FDR changed T'giving from the last Thursday in November to the 4th Thursday to make a longer Christmas shopping season, hoping to help with the Depression.
                        A lot of people objected which is why your New England traditionalist stuck to the old date. There were some who celebrated BOTH dates for quite a few years.
                        Still most people in America, think we've been eating turkey and celebrating since the pilgrims. Guess we don't know much about our history. Or our culinary history.

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          Btw, *THE* quintessential Yankee (meaning New England) "holiday" would be.....

                          Fast Day.

                          It was the companion of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was happily adopted by non-Yankees. Fast Day was left to a portion of New England. Definitely *not* a Chowhound feast.

                      2. Not being a southerner, I could see why they wouldn't want to celebrate a Yankee holiday in the late 1800's or early 1900's.

                        They did not have much to be thankful for. Having lost family members to a Civil War. Having Yankee's dictate laws and taxes on them and their land.

                        Even though the country was united, we were still divided back then.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Infomaniac

                          Info, But the South went on to invent the Turducken; I consider that to be a sign the South has finally returned to the fold and embraced the holiday once again. Remember, too, it was the Yankees that invented green jello with shredded carrots on top. (Which may explain why Thanksgiving is not popular with many Chowhounds that have posted.)

                          1. re: Leper

                            Turducken was invented in medieval France and the brought to the American south by the Acadian French, or "Cajuns". However, as turkeys were unknown by Europeans before their discovery of the new world, the prototype "turducken" was likely a pig or a sheep stuffed with successively smaller critters. People have been hunting, farming, roasting and eating turkeys in the New World ever since they got here, and American southerners are no exception. It's probably Lincoln's decree of Thanksgiving as a national holiday that left a bad taste in the collective "mouth of the south", not the turkey that's come to be associated with it.

                        2. Regarding the leftovers, in both my family and my in-laws, it's always bring your own containers and fill them up yourself. Never have I been to a family function where we expected the host to package up the leftovers for us. Maybe you can suggest everyone to bring their own tupperware and just tell them to have at it before you start to clean up?

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Rick

                            I can do that with my brother (and it's a very good suggestion). With my MIL, that won't be feasible. She won't even pour herself a drink or hang up her own coat.

                            1. re: Janet from Richmond

                              We have a few like your mother in law in our extended family and I've found a perfect correlation between people who _never_ entertain/host and people who I have to wait upon.

                              I hope you'll look into the butler service, it sounds like you could use a person for the MIL alone! You can usually find the larger agencies in the phonebook and Craig's List is another good source for domestic help. It's smart to start early, but staff is available on the holidays.

                            2. re: Rick

                              I keep around old cottage cheese and the like containers for sending leftovers home. That way I don't need to get them back.


                            3. I guess all that is in the past...they surely do celebrate it in GA. My inlaws really do a major spread and there are generally about 25 people there...but I think it's become very much about family, and being thankful for each other. Seeing people you don't see the rest of the year.

                              1. I mentioned this to my wife (Who's from Mississippi and a Daughter of the Confederacy) and she said that it's about time people got over the war. If they can celebrate July 4th in Vicksburg, they can celebrate Tday in Virginia.


                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Davwud

                                  That was a wonderful response...your wife sounds like a terrific person...this Thanksgiving I'll give thanks for people like her.....you're a lucky man!! (but can she cook???)

                                  1. re: Davwud

                                    Amen from another native Mississippian (not UDC, although technically I could be). I love Thanksgiving and have enjoyed sumptious Thanksgiving feasts all my life.
                                    None of my elders ever appeared to consider it a "Yankee holiday".

                                  2. What a great thread. I envy you all. Even those with MILs and kitchen toxic dumps and the canned cranberry sauce. I love Thanksgiving food. I love to cook it. I love to start planning weeks ahead. I love it when my guests want doggie bags. Unfortunately, I have a family of three--including me. My 88-year-old mother refuses to travel unless my single brother picks her up an brings her to my (single) apartment. So I spend days cooking enough for probably eight and although we all (all three) enjoy it tremendously, I'd give anything to be cooking for eight, eighteen, or--heaven--twenty eight. Count your blessings indeed.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: JoanN

                                      One of my friends has no family in NYC, so she invites all the other people that she knows that have no family in NYC and would most likely be eating alone, or going out...anyone like that you could invite? My family all eat like birds, which is a disappointment on this particular day, but at least I have the pleasure of their presence and their appreciation!

                                    2. It's one of my favorite holidays to cook for because I can always think of tons of creative menu items to add. As long as there is a turkey and stuffing, my family will be thrilled to come to our house, hang out and play games and eat lots of great food. It's one of the perks of having a chef in the family. (just for clarification-a personal chef who isn't required to work every holiday) We take a few moments to express our thanks for the past year, and we hang around talking and blabbing until it becomes quite late. It's a joy. The turkey is always done on the grill, slow cooked with smoke and tastes so delicious. I can't wait!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: cooknKate

                                        We did the turkey on the grill and my daughter said it didn't taste like Thanksgiving smoked. So she does the bird now, and I do sides and bring them hot. One thing I haven't seen mentioned as a turkey must have side dish is rutabagoes!! I I have to make a stockpot full of them, done just like mashed potatoes(only hand mashed with some chunks), and Daughter & I split the leftovers of them. My mom is from the south and midwest, I'm not sure where that tradition came from. I'd better ask, she is 93!! We also put some applesauce in the sausage stuffing. That came from NJ. Oh, now, y'all have me wanting to do a turkey.
                                        I heard a definition of anticipation = the smell of turkey cooking. Pretty good one I thought!!

                                      2. We go out for Thanksgiving (collective gasp!!! lol!!!). I never liked the food but suffered through it until my FIL had a stroke. He was in a nursing home and his wheelchair and the people couldn't fit into his house. My MIL suggested a private dining room at The Ritz Carlton in Boston. What a treat!!! I still (many long years ago) remember that I ate oysters on the half shell and duck!!! Everyone had what they wanted and my BIL and I eschewed the turkey. Leonard Bernstein was in the private dining room next door and played the piano for his guests which we, of course, could enjoy as well. His dog Henry came next door (dachsund) and entertained my FIL who loved dogs. Henry, btw, had a place set at Leonard's table along with his other guests. We go out every year and I research a place that has good turkey dinners and will offer seconds so the rest of my family is happy.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Linda VH

                                          Wanna adopt me? <G> That sounds wonderful. Back in my pre-hubby days my family went out to The Jefferson Hotel here in Richmond for Thanksgiving and it was fabulous. No one had to eat turkey and no one had to touch a dirty dish.

                                          1. re: Linda VH

                                            What a wonderful memory...thanks for sharing it with us...I can imagine your view down over the Public Gardens ...Swan Boats sailing, and Bernsteins' music playing in the background.... impeccable food and service...which you neither had to prepare or clean!

                                          2. I lived in southern Georgia and didn't hear of any such thing, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there, it just wasn't in evidence.

                                            I agree that the "traditional" dinner is a New England thing, with some outside influences -- and I like the can-berries, but I usually have both because not everybody likes slimy slices.

                                            One year, several years ago, I hosted Thanksgiving -- because my house is one of two big enough to hold everyone from one side of the family, and the other house is resolutely vegetarian -- no one except the vegetarians could deal with a Thanksgiving tofurkey, wrapped up in tradition as that bird is.

                                            People started calling me, telling me what things made Thanksgiving special for them. I was 24, and an accomplished cook if I may say so myself, but there were 28 coming for dinner, and I have a small kitchen.

                                            Nevertheless, I endeavoured to be all things to all people. I spent -- and I'm not exaggerating -- six days, at least 12 hours a day, cooking this meal. I filled two fridges in my own house and co-opted space in the neighbours' garage fridge and their oven in exchange for an invitation to dinner (if you're cooking for 28, what does 2 more matter anyway?).

                                            I was exhausted. I put the turkey on to cook, and cleaned, and ironed tablecloths, and set tables. When I finished and took the turkeys out to rest, one of the cousins came over, wiggled a drumstick, saw (clear) juices coming out and -- despite the presence of a probe thermometre reading the correct temperature, said, "It isn't done. Everybody, the turkey's not done, it's undercooked, so much for the great cook."

                                            I lost it. I totally lost it. I ripped the drumstick off the bird, threw it at her, and lost my temper as I haven't done before or since. Someone took me next door to the neighbours' house so it didn't escalate, someone else threw out the cousin (and the turkey leg, which had long since violated the five-second rule), and a few other people managed to locate and finish the rest of the dinner.

                                            A friend brought me over a plate, but I didn't eat. I couldn't. I couldn't LOOK at that dinner that took me so many hours to make. The cousin called the next day to apologise and I hung up on her, then unplugged the phone.

                                            The next time it was my turn to host Thanksgiving for that half of the family, I decided to hell with fairness and rudeness, and excluded that cousin and her immediate family. I also called everyone that was coming and said, "We are having what I am cooking -- turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, succotash, cranberries and pumpkin and apple pies. If there is something besides that would make Thanksgiving special for you, please feel free to bring it and we'll try to find room to heat it up."

                                            It took only ten hours over two days to create that dinner for 24 people, I was much happier, and I ate.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                              OMG. That cousin's rudeness merited the extreme sanction of the host: immediate expulsion:

                                              "I am so glad you stopped by to see us before dinner. I hope you enjoy your dinner elsewhere. We must catch up another time, and right now I have to serve my dinner guests. Thanks. Goodbye [handing guest her coat and things]." [Cue the wailing and knashing of teeth]

                                              I am speechless to think any guest would at any time make a negative comment in the presence of anyone at the gathering, including the host.

                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                Um, this is my favorite Thanksgiving story ever.

                                                Consider developing it into a short story and submitting it for publication. Every person who has EVER hosted a holiday meal will be laughing and crying. Simultaneously.

                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                  OMG, I swear if this story is ever put on film, it could very well be the ultimate Thanksgiving version of one of the best Christmas films ever - "A Christmas Story", that film of the "official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model BB rifle with a compass in the stock" fame. It has one of the best movie poster taglines ever: "Peace. Harmony. Comfort and Joy... Maybe Next Year." :-)

                                                  I'm very glad you had a good T'giving the next year, Das!

                                                2. I love Thanksgiving. I don't care what the historic origins, it has always been my favorite celebration, way back to my earliest childhood, construction paper turkeys and all.
                                                  I know that it can all be ruined by bad behavior, my sister in law was well on her way to destroying my happy Thanksgivings, but thank god my brother divorced her.
                                                  I have done variations on the turkey feast, southwest was a good one ( Chile-rubbed Turkey, blue corn stuffing, jalapeno mash, cajeta pecan pie) but more and more I am drawn to the traditional flavors...It is my favorite dinner to make for my parents, it brings them great pleasure....I am going to savor it all as long as I can.

                                                  1. TG is my other favorite holiday after Christmas, and as Mrs. O really does not like Christmas then Thanksgiving has taken first place by default. Her dad, who used to be the family chef and Master of Revels, passed the toque to me several years ago, and now we host the eight or so family members at our house every November. The turkey must by family tradition be a "four-legged" one, that is with an extra set of landing gear cooked along with the bird, since this is pretty much a dark-meat-only family.

                                                    Of all the TG dinners I've ever cooked, I think my favorite was one for an English friend who was gonna be stuck in Nashville on business, and when we invited him to dinner and asked what he'd like he requested food as nearly traditional-American as we coud manage. We stuck to strictly native foodstuffs, with squash and beans and cranberries alongside the turkey, potatoes and stuffing, and an apple upside-down batter cake with warm cream for dessert. Norman was in hog heaven with the food, and deliriously appreciative, and I don't think I've ever had a better TG feast before or since.

                                                    1. My Grandmother is 99 next month. She has lived in South Carolina forever. Her deceased husband was born in 1899 in North Carolina. I will ask her, but I have never heard anything anti-Thanksgiving.

                                                      The only holiday I have ever heard of as "Yankee" is memorial day. I used to work for a very old-school textile firm that did not celebrate Memorial Day until 1999.

                                                      1. memorial day or labor day? I went to a university in the south that didn't celebrate labor day because it was in an old mill town and the board of directors/main donors were all from families that owned the mills. They thought labor day was a holiday for the devilish and lazy.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: emmie

                                                          No, I did mean Memorial Day, but now that you mention it...

                                                          I have friends at both Clemson and Furman and neither were able to go ride on Labor Day. I was amazed. I went to Furman and can't remember the no Labor Day thing...maybe I assumed it was just because we started back to school at the beginning of Sept. OK, I'll ask about that, too.

                                                          My textile firm was fine w/ Labor Day. We were always jealous of the New York office because they got Christmas and Easter AND the Jewish Holidays. I would have been perfectly willing to celebrate with them.

                                                        2. In New Orleans, we observed neither Veterans Day nor Memorial Day. They were traded out for holidays on Mardi Gras and All Saints' Day (Nov 1.)
                                                          On All Saints' Day, families packed picnic lunches and headed to the cemteries to clean the gravesites and whitewash the above-ground tombs. The kids played and everyone visited with the other families in the Cities of the Dead. The Roman Candy Man and other food and flower vendors set up shop at the gates to the cemeteries. This tradition has sadly died out.

                                                          1. "A memo... preserved at the National Archives’ Roosevelt Library and Museum, revealed that Roosevelt and his advisers even considered moving Thanksgiving to a Monday..."