Explore Some Tales of Brooklyn Thanksgivings Past

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Thanksgiving is now a national holiday that evokes tables loaded with food, autumnal colors, and friends and family gathered in celebration. While a day of thanks was often celebrated in the early 19th century, it wasn’t until 1863 that Thanksgiving became an official U.S. holiday. How did Brooklynites celebrate the food-centered holiday over the years? Read a few tales of Brooklyn Thanksgivings below.

thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving postcard from 1914. Image via New York Public Library

How Brooklynites Celebrated Turkey Day

Thanksgiving in America has always been a rather strange combination of festival, food, and frolic. We watch colorful parades in the morning, stuff ourselves in the afternoon, and then retire to our couches to watch two teams of modern gladiators beat each other silly for the prize of a silver trophy.

Traditions have evolved since Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the 1860s, but the sentiment has remained the same. Here’s how late-19th-century Brooklyn celebrated, with massive feasts and costumed Fantastics.

dining room history - painting of an 1860s dining room with paintings on the walls

‘The Contest for the Bouquet: The Family of Robert Gordon in Their New York Dining-Room’ by Seymour Joseph Guy shows Frances Gordon and their children in the dining room of their Manhattan dining room in 1866. Image via Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Quick History of the Dining Room and Its Decoration in Brooklyn and Beyond

Thanksgiving was meant to be a day set aside for the giving of thanks for the harvest, the bounty of the earth, and the gifts of nature and prosperity bestowed on us throughout the year. In celebration, we gather for a feast that brings together extended family, friends, and strangers to our tables. There are only a handful of countries that celebrate a day called Thanksgiving — the U.S. and Canada chief among them — but many other countries also have traditional harvest feast days and celebrations by other names.

brooklyn history thanksgiving traditions

St. John’s Orphan Asylum at St. Marks and Albany Avenue. Photo via Brooklyn Public Library

Giving Thanks in Brooklyn, 1881

Because there were few governmental or social provisions for the poor and less fortunate in the 19th century, it became the mission of religious and private institutions to take care of those who couldn’t do for themselves. These Brooklyn organizations took care of orphans, the elderly, the poor and sick, and made sure that the less fortunate still had a bountiful Thanksgiving. Read further for a look at some of the celebrations, and the buildings in which they took place.

george washington enters manhattan 1783

An 1879 lithograph depicting Washington’s entry into Manhattan on November 25, 1783. Image by Edmund P. & Ludwig Restein via Library of Congress

The Lost 19th Century Holiday of Evacuation Day

Before Thanksgiving became widespread, a long-forgotten holiday would have been celebrated by many 19th century New Yorkers in late November. November 25, 1783, became known as Evacuation Day, marking the departure of British troops from New York at the end of the Revolutionary War. While the British departed the harbor, American troops entered Manhattan to officially take back the city with a triumphant welcoming of General Washington and New York State Governor Clinton.

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