Thanksgiving - United States

Today is the fourth Thursday in November, annually celebrated in the United States as Thanksgiving Day since 1941.  It was on this date – 26 November – in 1789 that President George Washington proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving and in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln set Thanksgiving Day as the final Thursday of November.  It is definitely my favorite of all American holidays and the period of time each year that I miss my family the most.  I could almost kill for a taste of a genuine roast turkey breast with my mom’s gravy as well as her homemade pumpkin pie.

According to Wikipedia, “Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times. The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.”

Thanksgiving - United States

Traditionally, American Thanksgiving is traced to a 1621 three-day harvest feast by the settlers at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts commonly called the Pilgrims.  They had been taught how to catch eels and grow corn by a Patuxet Native American named Squanto who lived with the nearby  Wampanoag tribe.  He also acted as an interpreter as he’d learnt English while enslaved in Great Britain.  The Wampanoag leader Massasoit had given food to the colonists during the first winter when supplies brought from England.  The Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest with a feast that recent research has placed sometime between 21 September and 11 November 1621; some 50 settlers (those still alive out of 100 who’d arrived on the Mayflower) and 90 Native Americans.

Thanksgiving - United States

A true thanksgiving celebration was held by the Pilgrims on a date calculated to have been Wednesday, 30 July 1623, following a fast and a 14-day rain which contributed to a larger than usual harvest.  The authority for this occasion came from Governor Bradford rather than the Church, making it possibly the first civil recognition of Thanksgiving in New England.  Similar celebrations were first held in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Boston) by the Puritans in 1630, in Connecticut starting around 1639 and by the Dutch in New Netherland (New York) in 1644.  However, there are documentations of earlier harvest feasts and days of thanksgiving in areas of Spanish America (Florida, Texas, and New Mexico)  and there was even a thanksgiving service held in the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607 and the first permanent settlement at Jamestown holding a thanksgiving in 1610.

The individual colonies held thanksgiving observances at different times of the year throughout the eighteenth century, often in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop.  During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress appointed one or more thanksgiving days each year, each time recommending to the executives of the various colonies (later, states) the observance of these days in their territories.  The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777 from its temporary location in York, Pennsylvania, while the British occupied the national capital at Philadelphia. Delegate Samuel Adams created the first draft. Congress then adapted the final version.  George Washington, leader of the revolutionary forces in the American Revolutionary War, proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga.

As President, on October 3, 1789, George Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington again proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795.  President John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. No Thanksgiving proclamations were issued by Thomas Jefferson but James Madison renewed the tradition in 1814, in response to resolutions of Congress, at the close of the War of 1812. Madison also declared the holiday twice in 1815; however, none of these was celebrated in autumn. By 1858 proclamations appointing a day of thanksgiving were issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories.  In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863.  Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States since 1863.

Holidays of the World - Guyana

During the second half of the 19th century, Thanksgiving traditions in America varied from region to region. A traditional New England Thanksgiving, for example, consisted of a raffle held on Thanksgiving Eve (in which the prizes were mainly geese or turkeys), a shooting match on Thanksgiving morning (in which turkeys and chickens were used as targets), church services, and then the traditional feast which consisted of some familiar Thanksgiving staples such as turkey and pumpkin pie, and some not-so-familiar dishes such as pigeon pie. The earliest high school football rivalries took root in the late 19th century in Massachusetts, stemming from games played on Thanksgiving; professional football took root as a Thanksgiving staple during the sport’s genesis in the 1890s, and the tradition of Thanksgiving football both at the high school and professional level continues to this day. In New York City, people would dress up in fanciful masks and costumes and roam the streets in merry-making mobs. By the beginning of the 20th century, these mobs had morphed into “ragamuffin parades” consisting mostly of children dressed as “ragamuffins” in costumes of old and mismatched adult clothes and with deliberately smudged faces, but by the late 1950s the tradition had vanished entirely.

The observance of Thanksgiving was fixed as the fourth Thursday in November by a bill signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 26 December 1941.  This had first been observed in 1939 when there were five Thursdays in November.  Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would help bring the country out of the Depression. At the time, advertising goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate.

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In the United States, certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. Baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as “Turkey Day”). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, various fall vegetables (mainly various kinds of squashes, such as butternut squash in New England), and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. Green bean casserole was introduced in 1955 and remains a favorite. All of these are actually native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food source to the Europeans when they arrived. Turkey may be an exception.  The Spaniards had brought domesticated turkeys back from Central America in the early 17th century, and the birds soon became popular fare all over Europe, including England, where turkey (as an alternative to the traditional goose) became a “fixture at English Christmases”.   As a result of the size of Thanksgiving dinner, Americans eat more food on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year.

Thanksgiving - United States

Since 1924, in New York City, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is held annually every Thanksgiving Day from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square, and televised nationally by NBC. The parade features parade floats with specific themes, scenes from Broadway plays, large balloons of cartoon characters, TV personalities, and high school marching bands. The float that traditionally ends the Macy’s Parade is the Santa Claus float, the arrival of which is an unofficial sign of the beginning of the Christmas season.

The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday which, since the early 2000s, has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the United States. Most major retailers open very early (and more recently during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales. Black Friday is not an official holiday, but California and some other states observe “The Day After Thanksgiving” as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day. Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the following Friday off, which, along with the following regular weekend, makes it a four-day weekend, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed legislating designating the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day as a day to pay tribute to Native Americans for their many contributions to the United States.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving is sometimes called Small Business Saturday, a movement promoting shopping at smaller local establishments. The Monday after Thanksgiving is sometimes called Cyber Monday, as a result of heavy online shopping when people return to their workplaces (which, in the past, typically offered far better internet connectivity). The Tuesday after Thanksgiving is sometimes called Giving Tuesday, to encourage charitable giving.

Pilgrims - United States

Loy Krathong (Thailand)

Today is the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar.  As such, the evening is being celebrated as Loy Krathong here in Thailand. Held throughout Thailand and Laos as well as a couple of small areas in Myanmar, Malaysia, and the extreme southern portion of Yunnan in China Loy Krathong is perhaps my favorite one-day holiday. It is at the very least the most colorful.

The Thai word loy (or, “loi”) is translated as “to float”) while a krathong means a “floating boat” or “floating decoration”.  The krathong are traditionally made from a thick slice from the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant.  Some modern versions are made from bread but increasingly, Styrofoam krathong are sold which pollute the rivers and take years to decompose.  They are decorated with elaborately folded banana leaves, incense sticks, colorful flowers, and a candle.  A small coin is sometimes added as an offering to the river spirits.  Fingernails or hair clippings are also occasionally added to the krathong as a symbol of letting go of past transgressions and negative thoughts.  The primary purpose of floating krathong in rivers, canals or ponds on the full moon night is to thank the Goddess of Water, known as Phra Mae Khongkha in Thailand.

Loy Krathong 2007 Phuket

Most large organizations, corporations and government offices in the region create larger, elaborate krathong and their are many local competitions to determine the best of these.  Most communities will hold at least one “Noppamas Queen” beauty contest. This is to honor a consort of the 13th century Sukhothai king Sri Indraditya, who, according to Thai mythology, was the first to float a decorated raft. These pageants attract young girls, adults, and katoeys alike.

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According to an 1863 account written by His Majesty Mongkut (Rama IV, best known in the West via Anna Leonewens’ novel Anna and the King of Siam and the musical The King And I), Loy Krathong was adapted by Siamese Buddhists from a Brahmanical festival to honor the Buddha. The candle venerates the Buddha with light while the krathong’s floating symbolizes letting go of all one’s hatred, anger and defilements.

In many Thai communities, people also enjoy launching khom loi, or Lanna-style sky lanterns, into the sky. These are made from a thin fabric such as rice paper, stretched over a bamboo or wire frame, to which a candle or disc of paraffin wax is attached. When this is lit, the resulting hot air is trapped inside the lantern and provides enough lift for the khom loi to float up into the sky.

Loy Krathong sky lantern, Patong 2006-11-06

For the first few years that I lived in Thailand, I loved to watch the streams of lit lanterns rising into the dark sky while sitting on my balcony. However, this aspect of the celebration is now being increasingly banned as the sky lanterns are a hazard to passing aircraft and can cause damage if they land on buildings or vehicles. Bangkok passed a particularly severe ordnance in 2014 following the military coup which states that “violators may face execution or a life sentence or serve a lighter sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison…” Fireworks displays have replaced the khom loi in a number of places.

On 10 November 2011, Thailand Post issued a set of four stamps and a souvenir sheet honoring “Traditional Festivals”.  Two of the stamps specifically depict Loy Krathong as celebrated in Sukhothai (along with the Candle Festival) and Tak while a third shows the northern Thai (Lanna) festival known as Yi Peng which coincides with Loy Krathong. This is the origin of the khom loi lanterns sky lanterns and locals decorate their houses and gardens with khom fai, intricately shaped paper lanterns which take on different forms including those carried hanging from a stick (khom thue) and those placed at temples which revolve due to the heat of the candle inside (khom pariwat). The most elaborate Yi Peng celebrations are in Chiang Mai, the ancient capital of the Lanna kingdom, where they are held concurrently with Loy Krathong. The final stamp depicts the Illuminated Boat Procession in Nakhon Phanom.

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With my recent promotion to Assistant Head Teacher of my school here in Phuket, Thailand, my leisure time has once again been drastically reduced.  In addition to administrative duties, I still have a number of teaching hours each week including a series of private three-hour Conversation lessons Mondays through Thursdays with a Thai man who is, at best, an Elementary level student.  That one lesson leaves me more exhausted than anything else I do and all I want to do when I return home in the evenings is eat dinner and go to sleep. It has been difficult to become motivated to do anything else!

Luckily, a few stamps arrived at the end of the week that have restored my interest in my philatelic pursuits.  Indeed, the covering envelopes were almost as interesting as the items contained within…

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Looking at the first, I knew I would be disappointed once I opened it.  The wrinkles from the water damage are apparent from this scan.  In southern Thailand we have just two seasons – the Dry Season (hot and hotter) and the Wet Season (hot and rainy).  This year, the monsoons have been particularly bad with the addition of being hammered by the outer spokes of at least four monster typhoons (AKA hurricanes).  I’m actually surprised that I haven’t received more soaked mail than I have – only three this year (all of which contained mint stamps ruined by the moisture).  As local mail deliveries are made by guys on tiny 110cc motorbikes, they often won’t make their rounds if the skies look threatening.  Occasionally the storms seem to come out of nowhere…

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What would have been the “A Stamp From Everywhere” addition for Azerbaijan didn’t survive a storm somewhere along it’s journey from a dealer in Bangor, Maine.  The containing envelope bore a purple marking in Thai (I’ll see if somebody at work can translate it) and the back flap is taped closed.  I have no idea if the marking – and possible resealing – of the envelope occurred in Bangkok or Phuket.  The stamp – Scott #350, 35 kopeck picturing flag on map of Azerbaijan, issued on 26 March 1992 commemorating the nation’s independence – is wrinkled and stuck to the inside of a glassine envelope.  Luckily, it’s not an expensive stamp (2009 catalogue value for MNH was US $1.25) and I should be able to track down another.  Makes me wonder if I should just not order anything during the six months or so of the Wet Season….

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Stamp dealers often affix older postage stamps to envelopes when mailing out orders but I’ve never seen an 11 year old First Day Cover recycled as was this one from Canada.  The cover bears a souvenir sheet (Scott #2027) issued on 26 March 2004 containing a C$1.40 stamp portraying Arctic explorer Otto Sverdup’s ship the Fram as well as two labels.  This was a joint issue with Norway and Greenland; I believe that the “NU” in the pictorial postmark stands for Nunavut, Canada’s Arctic province.  The dealer added three copies (one on the front and two on the back) of Scott #1812, a holographic self-adhesive stamp issued on 12 October 1999 to mark the Millennium, as well as a single copy of Scott #1856 issued 23 May 2000 to mark the Queen Mother’s 100th birth anniversary.

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The recycled FDC from the frozen Canadian north contained a folder of twelve stamps from the tropical islands of Hawaii.  Specifically, the stamps are:

  • Scott #35 (1875) 2c brown King David Kalakaua
  • Scott #42 (1883) 1c green Princess Likelike
  • Scott #43 (1886) 2c rose King David Kalakaua (a duplicate)
  • Scott #52 (1891) 2c dull violet Queen Liliuokalani
  • Scott #57 (1893) 2c dull violet Provisional Government overprint in red
  • Scott #66 (1893) 2c rose Provisional Government overprint in black
  • Scott #74 (1894) 1c yellow Coat of Arms
  • Scott #75 (1894) 2c brown View of Honolulu (a duplicate)
  • Scott #76 (1894) 5c rose lake Statue of Kamehameha
  • Scott #80 (1899) 1c dark green Coat of Arms
  • Scott #81 (1899) 2c rose View of Honolulu
  • Scott #82 (1899) 5c blue Statue of Kamehameha

I plan to design a few album pages to house these Hawaiian stamps on my next day off (currently, that MIGHT be next Friday) and would like to purchase a few more.  There are a number that are rather affordable but others that I can never hope to obtain.  It appears that the earliest stamp from Hawaii that I will be able to add would be Scott #10 (2009 value of US $25 unused), an official reprint issued in 1868 of an 1855 stamp picturing a rough rendition of King Kamehameha III.

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From the pre-statehood issues of one future U.S. state to a fantasy issue purporting to represent the republic era of yet another U.S. state, that of my birth – Texas.  These were created this year by Philosateleian, a local post operated out of Jacksonville, Florida, and probably the most visible of the American hobbyist posts.  To quote the designer:

The Republic of Texas never issued postage stamps. Indeed, it became part of the United States of America in 1846, the year before the USA issued its first stamps. But what if Texas had used postage stamps? What might they have looked like? I am creating a series of fantasy stamps for the Republic of Texas, and these are the first set in that series.

In 1916, W. L. Newsom wrote that the early Texas postal system had five basic rates for a letter comprised of a single sheet of paper:

– 6¼ cents (up to 20 miles)
– 12½ cents (20-50 miles)
– 18¾ cents (50-100 miles)
– 25 cents (100-200 miles)
– 37½ cents (over 200 miles)

The five fantasy stamps included in this lot match the rates listed above. They are ungummed.

No more than 280 copies (20 sheets of 14) of each of these stamps will be produced.”

I love the minimalist design of the stamps with the Lone Star of Texas dominating.  I look forward to additional “issues” in this series.  Another term for fantasy stamps, by the way, are Cinderella stamps.

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The front and back of the envelope containing the Republic of Texas stamps is a good example of what I enjoy seeing when I pick up my mail in my guesthouse’s lobby.  While most dealers cover envelopes with older stamps from the 1950’s and 1960’s (full sheets of these stamps being dirt-cheap), I would rather see recent stamps such as the new Elvis Presley and Paul Newman emissions issued this past August and September, respectively.  A nice addition is another Philosateleian local post stamp and appropriate markings.

Happy Collecting!

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A busy ending to a long holiday month (school term break in Thailand) brought a major job promotion, watching my hometown baseball team win the first two games of the World Series and lose the third, not to mention Halloween which is viewed by Thais as an opportunity for women to dress in the sexiest witch outfits one can imagine and spend the night getting as drunk as possible with not a pumpkin or bowl of candy corn to be found.  By the looks of one envelope received today, Zorro is alive and well working for Canada Post – defacing a lovely block of four (Scott #913) issued in 1982 portraying the original “Bluenose” stamp (Scott #158) of 1929 which many regard as the most beautiful stamp ever issued.

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Another order had some recently-issued United States stamps affixed, including two of the recent “Charlie Brown Christmas” stamps – a television show which debuted on the day of my birth in 1965.  I must remember to order the full booklet in the near future!  I love receiving recent stamps on my mail more than the old 3c or 5c stock that most dealers tend to use.

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Enough of what was on the outside of my mail today.  What lurked within?  The “Bluenose” envelope brought yet another of my attempts to order stamp hinges that I can actually use.  The last several orders arrived in the middle of heavy downpours, soaking the envelopes and gluing together the thousand hinges each packet contained.  Normally, our local mailman will not even load up his 110cc motor scooter if the weather is foul but at some point he must brave the monsoons.  I will try and not place any orders next year during the rainy season (which runs roughly from early May through October); I was lucky more often than not this time around but…

Austria-Turkish Empire - 41 - 1906

The sole addition to my “A Stamp From Everywhere” collection is the 1 piaster ultramarine value issued by Austria in 1906 for use in their post offices in the Turkish Empire (Scott #41).

United States - 73 - 1863

I have been buying a few stamps from the early issuing years of the United States recently.  My budget has been that of a teacher’s salary (and teachers in Thailand being paid even more dismally than our counterparts back in the States) so I am sometimes compelled to buy poorly-centered “space-fillers” until I can afford a more beautiful specimen.  A case in point is this copy of Scott #73, two-cent black Andrew Jackson (known to collectors as the “Black Jack”), issued in 1863.  A well-centered (four margins, Very Fine) used Black Jack is valued at US $70.00 in my 2009 Scott Catalogue; I paid $6.50 for this one.  I like the fancy cancellation “X” made out of cork.

Hawaii - 75 - 1894

As an American expat, I find a certain fascination in the places that later became parts of the United States or that once held territorial status.   Probably such issuer holds more interest for me than the isles of Hawaii although I had to set foot anywhere within our 50th state (my parents once spent a holiday at Kaanapali Bay on Maui, however).  Prior to Hawaii becoming a U.S. territory on 14 June 1900, it issued its own stamps and postal stationary.  Scott #75, received in today’s mail, is part of a set designed by E. W. Holdsworth following his success at winning a competition.  The two-cent brown value pictures Honolulu harbor.  What I can read of the purple postmark leads me to conclude that is that of one of two different towns on the big island of Hawaii – either Paauhau or Paauilo – which sat on the northeastern coast about five miles apart in the wet region (Hamakua) which included a number of large sugar plantations.

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Interestingly, the nine stamps that comprise the pictorial issue (five issued on 28 February 1894, one released on 27 October 1894 with the final three put on sale in 1899) were issued by three different governments – a Provisional Government established in 1893, the independent Republic of Hawaii which was formed on 4 July 1894, and an administrative “Republic of Hawaii” which existed in name only following annexation by the U.S. on 12 August 1898.  At midnight on 13 July 1900, all Hawaiian stamps became invalid for postage and soon thereafter sent to Washington, D.C., via Honolulu where they were burned on 9 February 1901.

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A great website covering all details about the stamps and postal history of pre-territorial Hawaii is called Post Office in Paradise.  It is highly interesting even if you have no interest in the stamps themselves.

Happy Collecting!