How the U.S. Came Together Around the Thanksgiving Dinner Table

What often gets lost in our celebration of Thanksgiving among the turkey, the football, and the Macy’s Day Parade is the role of Abraham Lincoln in the foundation of the revered family Holiday. It wasn’t until Lincoln’s proclamation of the observance of a national day of thanks to unify a country divided during the Civil War, that Thanksgiving as we know it came to be celebrated nationally on the last Thursday of every November.

Although days of thanks have been celebrated in the new world since the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving in 1621, they were regionalized, celebrated on different days, and went in and out of favor over the years. In 1863, at the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale (writer of “Mary had a little Lamb”) Abe Lincoln sanctified the holiday in a National Proclamation. 150 years later, Thanksgiving still presents Americans with a much-needed opportunity to gather with family and friends, and give thanks for our great nation’s bounty.


Celebrating the harvest of the United States’ national product, Thanksgiving tables from coast to coast comingle foods grown in widely dispersed states and bring them together to create one uniquely American feast.

The nation’s top turkey-producing states—Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia, and Missouri—are joined at dinner tables across the nation by potatoes grown in Idaho, Washington, California, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. Of course, you can’t have Turkey without cranberry sauce, and you can’t have cranberry sauce without the cranberry producers in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Oregon. Oh, and you can’t forget the dinner rolls and stuffing, or the hardworking states that grow the wheat, with North Dakota, Kansas, Montana, Washington, and Texas leading the pack.

These are only a few of the many states and many crops you’ll find united on dinner tables across the nation this holiday. Whether it's butternut squash, green beans, carrots, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, or something else altogether, let's think about the people who’ve helped make this meal possible—and we’re not talking just about whoever is doing the cooking. As we sit down with our family this year, be thankful that other families (97% of U.S. farms are family owned) have spent their year fertilizing, feeding, planting, spraying, and harvesting so you can enjoy that great meal. It might not be the unifying vision Abe Lincoln had all those years ago, but the spirit remains the same.

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Have a happy Thanksgiving this year and take a moment to thank the nation’s farmers whose efforts make your holiday feast possible.