Tomorrow, A Day of Thanks
President Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving as an official national holiday in 1863. Before then, New England and other regions traditionally—albeit at slightly different times—held a community day of feasting and merriment to give thanks for a bountiful fall harvest.
The first “official” Thanksgiving in California occurred in 1849, during the chaotic Gold Rush. This declaration by General Bennet Riley, the last American military governor of California, was printed in all the leading newspapers:
In conformity with the customs of other States and Territories, and in order that the people of California may make a general and public acknowledgement of their gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the universe for His kind and fostering care during the past year, and for the boundless blessings which we now enjoy, it is recommended that Thursday, the 29th day of November next, be set apart and kept as a day of Thanksgiving and prayer.
Townsfolk welcomed General Riley’s edict, happy to be observing a holiday ritual that reminded them of home. It was not reported how many fortune hunters in out-back gold mining camps were lucky enough to enjoy a traditional meal of roasted meats, corn bread, fruit pies, and a variety of fresh vegetables.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!