If Benjamin Franklin had had his way, it’s possible that the centerpiece of most Thanksgiving meals this week would not be the turkey.
While he did not actually recommend it replace the eagle as a symbol of our nation, he did, in a letter to his daughter, believe that the turkey’s qualities were more virtuous. He called it “a true original of America” and “a bird of courage.”
It’s possible that wild turkey was on the menu of that first Thanksgiving nearly 400 years ago, but some historians believe other fowl, such as ducks and geese, were more likely part of the feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.
The one thing we know for sure is that it took some time for the holiday to settle into its current location on the calendar. President Washington called for a day of national Thanksgiving on Nov. 26, but the states began establishing their own dates in the years that followed.
In the mid-1800s, for example, our own Governor Robert Letcher actually moved the holiday back to Sept. 26.
It was President Lincoln who first established the modern holiday schedule, setting Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. In the 1940s, Congress clarified that it would always be on the fourth Thursday.
President Lincoln is believed to have started another tradition around this holiday: The “pardoning” of the turkey by the President, which in this case was at the request of his son. The ceremony as we know it today, though, only dates back to the 1980s.
It was during the late 1800s and early 1900s, meanwhile, that the regular practice of giving a turkey to the President’s family during Thanksgiving began, thanks to a poultry farmer from Rhode Island; there is an account, however, that a turkey from Kentucky shared billing at the White House a century ago.
As we gather around the table this week, many of us may find ourselves reflecting on what we’re thankful for.
To begin with, we can thank our farmers for their work in making sure that we have enough to eat. There are only a few states that have more farms than we do, and we have not one or two but 10 different types of crops and livestock that bring in at least $100 million a year.
Two important to our state – corn and soybeans – are seeing a remarkable turnaround when compared to last year’s difficult growing season. Earlier this month, we learned that corn is on track to more than double last year’s production here in the state, while soybeans will see their numbers go up by a third.
Another positive in our favor is our giving nature. A study released last year by the Chronicle of Philanthropy put Kentucky 15th among the states when it comes to charity.
While many of us will be eating Thanksgiving at home this year, many others will be visiting Jenny Wiley State Resort Park and the other state resort parks, all of which offer a full meal between noon and 8 p.m. It’s something to consider for those who may be looking for a new tradition or to take a break from hours spent in the kitchen.
Whatever is decided, please take a little extra time when travelling during what the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics says is the busiest weekend of the year. When compared to a non-holiday period, the number of those travelling more than 50 miles away this week goes up by half.
On behalf of my family and the Kentucky House of Representatives, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that the upcoming holiday season is a positive one.