Thursday, November 24, 2011

Yes, But Why Thursday?

Every year about this time, a gently nagging but generally fleeting question crosses my mind.

Why, I wonder, is Thanksgiving celebrated on a Thursday?

The fact that Thanksgiving occurs every year on a Thursday seems so natural -- so divinely ordained -- that we take it for granted.  Even when that question nags me, what I usually do is resolve to check it out on Wikipedia, and then never carry through on the resolution.  (What?  A Thanksgiving resolution?  Seems like cognitive dissonance, especially if, like a typical New Year's resolution, it involves diet and exercise.)

In any case, at long last my question was answered, in an article by Monica Hesse on the front page of Wednesday's Washington Post, in which she discusses the origins and benefits of long holiday weekends.

Looking at the history of Thanksgiving, Hesse reveals why it's always been on Thursday.  Not pre-ordained, as one might expect, but rooted in the mundane:
The first federally endorsed Thanksgiving holiday was the one proclaimed by George Washington in 1789. More than 70 years later, Abraham Lincoln issued his own proclamation. But between those events were decades of relentless lobbying and letter-writing campaigns by Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshirite who made it her life’s mission to formalize the then-ad hoc holiday. (She also wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”)

In Hale’s mid-19th-century heyday, “the only American holidays were Independence Day and Washington’s birthday,” says Penny Colman, who wrote “Thanksgiving: The True Story.” “And those were both military holidays — full of bombs and explosions.” Hale wanted a holiday that would honor domestic tranquility and not, you know, blowing stuff up. Additionally, she wanted it on a Thursday.

Partly, that was to honor George Washington, whose own proclamation had been Thursday-scheduled. The other part? To honor housewives. “Thursday is the most convenient day of the week for a domestic holiday,” Hale wrote in one of her dozens of Thanksgiving editorials. What with all of the washing on Mondays and ironing on Tuesdays, Thursdays seemed like the best opportunity for a homemaker to prepare a meal and still get to hang out with her visiting family.

Hale’s letters are credited with ultimately bending Lincoln’s ear and prompting him to standardize the Thursday feast. Had she opted for Wednesday or Sunday, the country might not know the joys of awkwardly long family gatherings or waiting in line at 5 a.m. on Black Friday for Best Buy’s deeply discounted television sets.
My guess is that more complete information, both on the origins of Thanksgiving as an annual observation and specifically on how it came to be observed on a Thursday each November, can be found in the 2009 book, Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday by James W. Baker, as well as in the book by Penny Colman mentioned in the Post article.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Who Killed JFK? Oliver Stone Has Some Theories

It has been nearly 50 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, yet that event always seems like a current topic of conversation.

Oliver Stone
Indeed, it was precisely the topic of conversation earlier this month in Charlottesville, when film director and screenwriter Oliver Stone appeared at the Virginia Film Festival following a 20th-anniversary screening of his 1991 movie, JFK.

That film explores many of the alternative theories of the Kennedy assassination through the real-life character of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) and features some of the most offensively stereotypical portrayals of gay characters (played by, among others, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, and Kevin Bacon) that one could expect from a self-described philosophically liberal film maker (see third video, below, and Stone's answer to my question about his personal political views).

Stone was interviewed on the stage of the Culbreth Theatre by Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, which is engaged in its own project marking the fiftieth anniversaries of significant events of the 1960s.  (The project began last year with a forum on the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debates.)

I was at the Sabato-Stone colloquy on November 4 and recorded video of the entire event.  Here it is, in two parts.

Part I:

Part II:

Prior to joining Professor Sabato in the auditorium, Stone met with the Charlottesville news media in a rehearsal hall backstage. Here's the video of that exchange of questions and answers:
Considering that newly-published books about the Lincoln assassination (such as one by Fox News talk-show host Bill O'Reilly) are still selling briskly nearly 150 years after that event, we can expect to be airing, debunking, and re-airing Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories for many decades to come.
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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Live Internet Townhall Tonight with Governor Gary Johnson

I'm unfamiliar with the platform ( but tonight at 8:00 p.m. (EDT) (or 5:00 p.m. Pacific time), Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson will be hosting a live internet townhall.  He is inviting participation from people around the country.

The graphic below should take you to the site.  If not, check out