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Thanksgiving was a Yankee holiday and not celebrated in Alabama until 1858 – here is why [vintage pictures]

Yankee holiday

Thanksgiving was not observed as a holiday in Alabama until 1858 when the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and North and South Carolina declared, Thursday, November 25th to be a day of Thanksgiving. On that day, the Daily Confederation reported that in Montgomery, Alabama that “church services were well attended, but ‘the streets were almost unusually crowded with wagons, and that business houses had to work whether ‘they would or not.’ Our country friends overlooked the day, and came to town to trade, in great numbers. Cotton is King, and everything has to give way before his pale-faced majesty.”1

“Thanksgiving was actually a Yankee holiday, birthed in New England and adorned with that region’s symbols and traditions: pilgrims, turkey, pumpkins, and cranberries.”2

Thanksgiving Curier & Ives print 1867 (Library of Congress)Thanksgiving Curier & Ives print 1867 (Library of Congress) 


No fixed date for the celebration

In the 1840s, Thanksgiving was celebrated across the Northeast and Midwest with a traditional Thanksgiving Day menu, but there was no fixed date for the celebration. Instead, each governor from individual states proclaimed the observance of the holiday. A fixed date came about for the holiday observance came about due to the book, Northwood: or Life North and South written by Sarah Josepha Hale, a widow with five children to raise. In her book that was published in 1841, she described Thanksgiving Day on a New Hampshire farm, and declared that the occasion “should be the same as the Fourth of July, a national holiday.”3

Thanksgiving in camp 1861 sketch (Library of Congress)Thanksgiving in camp sketched Thursday, November, 28th 1861 by artist Arthur Rudolph Waud (Library of Congress)

Considered an abolitionist holiday

A letter-writing campaign to the nation’s governors eventually resulted in a specific day set aside to observe the holiday. However, many supporters of Thanksgiving were also ardent abolitionists and some Southerners began to view Thanksgiving as a Yankee abolitionist holiday in 1853 and they refused to observe it.

In 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale continued her crusade to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She wrote to Abraham Lincoln encouraging him “to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” Lincoln agreed and proclaimed a nationwide Thanksgiving Day to occur on the last Thursday in November. Since this was in the midst of the Civil War, the Confederate States of America refused to recognize Lincoln’s authority and Thanksgiving was not celebrated nationwide until Reconstruction was over in the 1870s.

Thanksgiving - Sarah Josepha (Buell) Hale, 1788-1879, oval, half-length portrait ca. 1850 (Library of Congress)Thanksgiving – Sarah Josepha (Buell) Hale, 1788-1879, oval, half-length portrait ca. 1850 (Library of Congress)

President Roosevelt set a permanent day

Each succeeding president continued the proclamation until 1939 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved the holiday permanently to the fourth Thursday in November to provide retailers with more Christmas shopping days.4 On December 26, 1941, he signed a joint resolution of Congress to officially change the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday and the date of the holiday became official.

Because of shortages of food during the Reconstruction period in the South after the War Between the States, Thanksgiving was only celebrated sparsely.

Once Federal rule was over, Southerners began to observe the holiday with a menu much like those in New England, but by the 1890s, Southern families created their own Thanksgiving menus and traditions.

Alabama Footprints Confrontation is a collection of lost and forgotten stories that reveals why and how the confrontation between the Native American population and settlers developed into the Creek-Indian War as well as stories of the bravery and heroism of participants from both sides.

Some stores include:

  1. Tecumseh Causes Earthquake
  2. Terrified Settlers Abandon Farms
  3. Survivor Stories From Fort Mims Massacre
  4. Hillabee Massacre
  5. Threat of Starvation Men Turn To Mutiny
  6. Red Eagle After The War



  1. Susan Haigler, thought this was interesting.

  2. Don’t think dates are correct. It only became a national holiday in 1863. Maybe they meant to say 1958

    1. So southerners did not celebrate thanksgiving until 1958?

    2. Not sure but 1858 is not correct

    3. No one has to have permission from the govt to celebrate Thanksgiving so its status as an official national holiday is kind of irrelevant.

    4. The article says that governors set the date until the 1860s when Lincoln set it as the 4th Thursday in November. During the 1850s, many of the people lobbying for a national date were also abolitionists, so some southern states refused to celebrate in 1853. FDR set it as a permanent date in the 1930s. Headline a little misleading in that point.
      You also have to remember that the people in the south were largely from Scottish descent. Even though we often tend to think of all of the inhabitants of Great Britain as the same people with the same customs and culture, especially at that time when there was nothing like our modern media exposure. Regional customs even here were quite varied.

    5. I have celebrated 75 Thanksgivings. Was taught to be thankful for family, food, friends, & one particularly special dinner of turkey, dressing, sweet potato casserole , rice, gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean, small peas, pimento, water chestnuts, mushroom, grated cheese casserole topped with fried onions. Pound cake for dessert. Thanksgiving will ALWAYS be celebrated in my family. Look back– this means Thanksgiving was a part of our lives since 1939.

  3. Oh, no!! Now we are going to have to get rid of Thanksgiving!!!!!

  4. Yes. I agree. No more Thanksgiving in Alabama!!! Or we could just call it something else.

  5. I’m sure it was Obama’s fault.

  6. Stop political correctness . It’s destroying American history and values .

  7. I remember as a kid growing up in south Alabama that Thanksgiving was not an especially celebrated holiday. Some years we had the typical dinner & some times we had Bologna or pb&j sandwiches. And I don’t date back to the 1800’s-contrary to some folks’ belief!

  8. Well whatever, I’ll take it. It’s good to know something came out of the Yankees. It’s my favorite holiday and I ain’t giving it to for NOBODY

  9. I thought Thanksgiving marked the start of hunting season in Mississippi. How would you know otherwise?

  10. When we went to my parents home for Thanksgiving day every family took a covered dish and we all help prepare the feast ! All the children(cousins) had such a fun day playing together ! My Mama laid “the law” down to my daddy because all the men and grown boys went deer hunting and she told him dinner will be served at 12 o’clock and all the women and children would eat and if they were late they could just eat what was left after we ate all we wanted ! Guess what ? They made sure they came home on time and usually watch football on TV in the evening ! We also like to watch all the parades in the morning ! We all made some wonderful memories and I still feel today that Thanksgiving is truly a family day ! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving !!

  11. I’m a Texan. My father’s family came here from Alabama after the War Between the States. I am 69 yrs old & I cannot remember ever not celebrating Thanksgiving. And it isn’t Thanksgiving without roasted turkey, cornbread dressing & giblet gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, & pumpkin & pecan pie. Other dishes were variable. I’m just thankful we have Thanksgiving!

  12. I’m v v disturbed that I have been celebrating a
    Yankee holiday!!! It was in secret that I purchased a Yankee candle. Now this

  13. I’m thankful for this day . We who stay so busy & are too busy to say thanks most of the time need a holiday to show our thanks.

  14. President Jefferson Davis issued a proclamation in 1861 following the Battle of 1st Manassas setting aside a day of prayer and thanksgiving. Again, in 1862, he issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, 24 September, 1862 to be a day of national prayer and thanksgiving. Saint Abraham didn’t issue his proclamation until 1863. As much as the Puritans claim the origins of Thanksgiving, such celebrations were held in Jamestown, in Virginia several years before the “pilgims” arrived in what’s now New England. All I can say is thank God the Mayflower had a poor navigator and those people missed their intended arrival point in Virginia!

    1. Yeah I thought it started in Jamestown? Ain’t read the article yet .

  15. I would like to know why we are celebrating a fake holiday. We stole this country from the native Americans. Murdered them, lied to them, tricked them gave them liquor so they could be duped and then jailed them all on reservations. Wow!

    1. Agree with Jo

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