Thanksgiving Feast in Chicago (1883)
“Chicago, Ill., West Side – Though it is a little late, perhaps it will be interesting to your readers to know how we celebrated Thanksgiving Day here. The Pastor thinking that it would be useful to have a fall festival, concluded that we could not do better than adopt Thanksgiving Day. So it was decided to have a general Thanksgiving dinner at the church, to which all were invited. Accordingly when Thanksgiving Day arrived, about sixty members of the congregation assembled at the church, and set down to a dinner of cold turkey, hot vegetables, coffee, pie, etc., which was provided by the ladies. The tables were arranged so that they formed three sides of a square, and we were assigned our seats by slips of paper on which our names were written. When all were seated the Pastor asked the blessing of the Lord upon our feast, and then we began the discussion of the good things. After the first ardor had a little worn off, our Pastor, the Rev. Mr. [W.F.] Pendleton, made a few remarks about the day and the use of being thankful, i.e., of acknowledging that all that we have comes from the Lord. . . . When dinner was concluded, and the dishes, etc., removed, the children played some Kindergarten games, under the direction of Miss Susie Junge, who has charge of the infant class, and teaches them the letter of the Word by the Kindergarten system. The games were enjoyed very much both by old and young. In the evening we all adjourned to the house of Mr. Blackman to witness a little drama given under the auspices of the young folks club. It was entitled ‘Sweethearts,’ and was well acted and much applauded. Thus ended our celebration of Thanksgiving Day, and we all voted it a profitable and entertaining way to pass the day” (New Church Life 1883, 4).
The ways in which New Church congregations have chosen to celebrate Thanksgiving have evolved gradually over time. Accounts in early issues of New Church Life indicate that society suppers were often chosen as a fitting way to celebrate the holiday. Society suppers, which marked various occasions, most often included speeches addressing a variety of theological topics. Sometimes the term “feast of charity” (see photo, above) was used to describe them. In the book True Christianity, Emanuel Swedenborg mentions the “feasts of charity” celebrated by the early Christians: “The spiritual sphere that prevailed at those feasts was a sphere of love to the Lord and love towards the neighbor, which cheered the mind of everyone, softened the tone of every voice, and from the heart communicated festivity to all the senses” (TCR 433). Today many New Church congregations have a festival church service on Thanksgiving followed by individual family meals.
Most Americans are familiar with the story of the famous feast of 1621 (see photo, top), when Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated the fruits of the harvest together. However, Thanksgiving was not established as a national holiday until the nineteenth century. Much of the credit for this belongs to Sarah Josepha Hale, who began a thirty-six-year campaign beginning in 1827. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving, to be observed annually on the fourth Thursday in November.
Photos: The painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930) is from Wikipedia and the image is in the public domain. The photograph of a Friday supper gathering in Chicago is dated 1893. It is attached to a card that lists the names of those in attendance. (Click on the image to see the list.) It is in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA.
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