A History of Unusual Thanksgivings

by nyljaouadi1
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Happy Thanksgiving.

This year’s holiday is more normal than last year’s, before the Covid vaccines had arrived. But it still is unusual for many families, involving some combination of antigen tests, outdoor meals (where the weather allows) and underlying anxiety.

With that mind, my colleagues and I put together a brief history of Thanksgiving celebrations since the 1850s, focusing on unusual years like this one. Farther down in today’s newsletter, you’ll also find last-minute cooking tips, suggestions for holiday television and more.

However you spend the day, we hope it’s a good one. We want to say thanks specifically to two groups of people: first, to everybody who’s working today (including our colleagues putting out The Times and delivering the print edition); and, second, to all of you — the readers of The Morning. We are grateful that you make time in your day for this newsletter.

The first appearance of the word “thanksgiving” in The Times digital archives — which go back to 1851 — did not refer to the holiday. It instead was a reference on Oct. 4, 1851, to “an appropriate prayer and thanksgiving” from a reverend at the opening of the Queens County’s annual agricultural exhibition.

The Covid-19 pandemic arguably caused a bigger break in Thanksgiving traditions than anything that came before. Since Lincoln’s proclamation, even during war, depression and tragedy, most Americans still found ways to gather with family and friends for a holiday meal.

But the threat from a pandemic — better understood in 2020 than it had been in 1918 — caused many people to stay home last year.

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