FRANKFORT – This week, our family and friends will gather around the dinner table as they have for generations to celebrate a holiday that is nearing its 400th anniversary.
As even our youngest grade school students can tell us, what is widely considered to be America’s first Thanksgiving took place in 1621, when the Pilgrims and a tribe of Native Americans came together for a three-day feast to give thanks for a successful harvest.
A little more than a century-and-a-half later, President George Washington helped cement the holiday’s current place on the calendar, and President Abraham Lincoln went a step further by declaring it should be on the last Thursday of November. A tweak by Congress in the 1940s clarified that it would always be held on the fourth Thursday, where it remains today.
While the turkey will undoubtedly be the centerpiece of most meals on Thanksgiving, it might not have been if Benjamin Franklin had pushed for his suggestion to make that bird our national symbol rather than the eagle. He favored the idea in a letter to his daughter, writing that the turkey was “a bird of courage” and “a true original native of America.”
The presidential pardon of a turkey is one area where the history behind it seems longer than it actually is. Although President Lincoln supposedly gave a reprieve once at the request of his son, and President Truman has mistakenly been called the father of the practice, the poultry pardon did not actually become an annual event until President George H.W. Bush was in office a quarter-century ago.
A few years before then, the American Farm Bureau began another regular tradition tied to the holiday: Determining how much it costs to feed a family of 10. The price has predictably risen – it’s now near $50 – but when adjusted for inflation, the cost is about 20 percent lower now than when the survey began.
That’s a testament to the improved efficiency of today’s farmers, and it’s also a good place to point out that it is increasingly easy to buy ingredients for the entire meal from local vendors, thanks to programs like “Kentucky Proud.”
For many Americans, a lot of time will be spent on the road before they can eat that meal, with AAA estimating that nearly 47 million people will travel at least 50 miles. The good news is that, when compared to 12 months ago, gas prices are down 65 cents per gallon, air fares are 10 percent lower and hotel prices are largely holding steady.
Not all Thanksgiving meals happen at home, of course. As they do each year, area restaurants and Jenny Wiley State Resort Park are offering cooks a chance to take it easy. The dining room will be open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, and the cost is $18.99 per adult and $8.99 for children six to 12, costs that exclude tax but include a drink. Children five and younger eat for free.
These dining opportunities are a reminder that Thanksgiving is not a day off for everyone, so beyond our personal blessings, we should also be thankful for those who protect and care for us during this time; who staff our restaurants and retail establishments; and who volunteer to make sure no one goes hungry. They really deserve our gratitude.
From my family to yours, we hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and an enjoyable holiday season.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.