Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is Thanksgiving Northern or Southern?

I never thought of Thanksgiving as either Northern or Southern, exactly. I know Plimoth is in Massachusetts, but I also know about George Washington's declaration of a day of national thanksgiving, and he was Virginian.

I especially know about Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of the 4th Thursday in November as Thanksgiving, in 1863. I thought that meant everyone, but apparently somewhere along the line (Mason-Dixon, probably) Thanksgiving got to be known as a Yankee holiday.

I find this confusing. Our family turkey was always stuffed with a cornbread and sage stuffing. The gravy was made with turkey giblets (don't ask), and we had a sweet potato casserole of some sort. The rolls were soft and white, with butter, and someone brought Ambrosia, a Confederate fruit salad if there ever was one. There were pickled things like gherkins, small onions, and bread-and-butter pickles.

What I loved best was the crab apples. They were canned in large jars, and looked beautiful, red and cinnamony. I know there were cinnamon sticks in the jars, and maybe red hots, or simple syrup flavored with red hots, or cinnamon oil and red food coloring. They were what we had instead of cranberries, and they were wonderful!

The desserts were, of course, pie. We had two kinds--pumpkin and pecan. The whipped cream always had bourbon in it.

Looking back over this list, I fail to see a Yankee footprint anywhere. Did southerners just do a southern version of someone else's feast? I hope not. The addition of oyster casserole and cranberries only makes everything just that much more memorable.

Did anyone bring the green bean casserole?


  1. Ah, fond memories of our traditional family Thanksgiving feast when I was little!

  2. My understanding is that some southerners associated Thanksgiving with abolitionism, perhaps due to sermons some northern preachers published about slavery during the Thanksgiving season and thus it became known at least some places as a Yankee holiday, while Christmas was more southern (I think starting largely in Louisiana) and was even banned in parts of New England until the mid 1800s.

    I read that about Thanksgiving recently, but I don't recall where

  3. I am doing a great deal of research on Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation, and Sarah Josepha Hale. This has led to reading a lot about Thanksgiving in general. I will be writing about Lincoln's Turkey Pardon for Emerging Civil War, so check that out. I think you are correct about the abolitionist angle. Seems Thanksgiving has lost its popularity lately--just the day before Black Friday!