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Mark Twain Thanksgiving Tales Amused Fans

Mark Twain Thanksgiving tales deliver his usual humor, sometimes with an extra bite. In one short memory piece the turkey triumphs. Then there’s the true story of his effort to change Thanksgiving’s date to accommodate his birthday party. Of course, we have many Mark Twain Thanksgiving quotes. Some are lighthearted. Others deliver sharpened points. Whatever his mood, for Mark Twain, Thanksgiving was a potent holiday.

Twain Implored Theodore Roosevelt To Move Thanksgiving

On October 3, 1863 Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26. It was none too soon for Sarah Hale, one of America’s original tastemakers and editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. Hale had been on a 17-year campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Following Lincoln, every president proclaimed the holiday each year. The chosen date was the last Thursday in November.

But for Mark Twain, Thanksgiving landing on November 30 in 1905 was unacceptable. In his autobiography, Twain writes about his personal campaign to persuade President Roosevelt to change the day of the national Thanksgiving. Among his arguments he stated that nothing worthy of thanks happened in the previous year other than:

“…several vicious and inexcusable wars,” scandalous “revelations” of financial fraud, and the “usual annual slaughters and robberies in the Congo State” as evidence “that if there was an honest man left in the United States, there was only one, and we wanted to celebrate his seventieth birthday.” 

Roosevelt did not change the date of Thanksgiving and the show went on. Twain’s famed birthday celebration was held on December 5th at Delmonico’s in New York City.

According to the New York Times, December 6, 1905:

“Mark Twain, the greatest of living humorists and the uncrowned king of American letters… celebrated his seventieth birthday last night. Or perhaps it would be more proper to say that others did it for him, Mark Twain himself being too busy making a speech.

There were 170 of his friends and fellow-craftsmen in literature gathered in the Red Room at Delmonico’s for the celebration. Barring a half dozen or so, all were guaranteed to be genuine creators of imaginative writings – or illustrators of such writings. The guarantee was furnished by Col. George Harvey, editor of The North American Review, who was the host of the evening as well as the Chairman.”

The Day The Turkey Beat Twain

Twain was collecting his various writings and memories during the 1890s. His proposed manuscript was titled, “My Autobiography (Random Extracts of It).” In 1899 he told the London Times the book would be kept from the public for 100 years after his death. But he released snippets from the manuscript in twenty-five issues of the North American Review.

Among those snippets was a Mark Twain Thanksgiving memory piece from his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. Hunting The Deceitful Turkey Twain takes us on a wild turkey chase through the woods. He was too young to carry a full-sized rifle, but old enough to feel the sting of defeat.

Twain writes:

“I followed an ostensibly lame turkey over a considerable part of the United States one morning, because I believed in her and could not think she would deceive a mere boy, and one who was trusting her and considering her honest. I had the single-barrelled shotgun, but my idea was to catch her alive. I often got within rushing distance of her, and then made my rush; but always, just as I made my final plunge and put my hand down where her back had been, it wasn’t there; it was only two or three inches from there and I brushed the tail- feathers as I landed on my stomach–a very close call, but still not quite close enough; that is, not close enough for success, but just close enough to convince me that I could do it next time. She always waited for me, a little piece away, and let on to be resting and greatly fatigued; which was a lie, but I believed it, for I still thought her honest long after I ought to have begun to doubt her, suspecting that this was no way for a high-minded bird to be acting.”

Needless to say, he never catches the turkey. But this short Mark Twain Thanksgiving story is well worth a holiday read.

Albert Bigelow Paine, New York published as Mark Twain’s Autobiography in two volumes in 1924. Between 2010 and 2015 a three-volume version was published. This is the complete unexpurgated version with historical annotations. One hundred years after his death, Twain was once again a best selling author.


Mark Twain Thanksgiving Week Wooing

In November of 1868, Twain was on his American Vandal Tour in Elmira, New York. He had fallen madly in love with Olivia Langdon. The previous Summer and Fall he had made frequent visits to visit the Langdon’s during breaks from his tour.

According to author Matt Seybold of the Center for Mark Twain Studies:

“On the Monday before Thanksgiving, following a sold-out show in Cleveland, Mark Twain scheduled a pro bono performance at the Elmira Opera House, donating the proceeds to a local fire department, and creating a convenient excuse for Livy to see him perform and for Sam to again impose upon her family for the holiday.”

Following a sold-out show on the Monday of Thanksgiving week he proposed. Thanks to that performance and an avalanche of love letters, she gave him a conditional consent. Of course, he still had to woo her parents.

Nevertheless, Twain remained confident. He told friends:

“If there were a church in town with a steeple high enough to make it an object, I would go out and jump over it!”

Given the large number of steeples in Elmira, Twain’s famous hyperbole brought roars of Thanksgiving laughter.

A Few Of Our Favorites Mark Twain Thanksgiving Quotes

Following are a few of our favorite Mark Twain Thanksgiving Quotes.

This one is from Following The Equator:

“The observance of Thanksgiving Day — as a function — has become general of late years. The Thankfulness is not so general. This is natural. Two-thirds of the nation have always had hard luck and a hard time during the year, and this has a calming effect upon their enthusiasm.”

In Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar Twain writes:

“Thanksgiving Day. Let all give humble, hearty, and sincere thanks now, but the turkeys. In the island of Fiji they do not use turkeys; they use plumbers. It does not become you and me to sneer at Fiji.”

Twain writes in a letter to editor of New York World, 27 October 1907:

“You ask me for a sentiment which shall state how much I have to be thankful for this time. For years it has been a rule with me not to expose my gratitude in print on Thanksgiving Day, but I wish to break the rule now and pour out my thankfulness; for there is more of it than I can contain without straining myself. I am thankful — thankful beyond words — that I had only $51,000 on deposit in the Knickerbocker Trust, instead of a million; for if I had had a million in that bucket shop, I should be nineteen times as sorry as I am now. Trusting this paean of joy will satisfy your requirement, I am Yours truly, Mark Twain.”

And in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 (University of California Press, 2010), Twain employs his gift of sarcasm, forcing a nation to consider its shameful past.:

“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.”

Wishing all a healthy Thanksgiving full of gratitude.

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