Thanksgiving among the Mormons

By: J. Stapley - November 21, 2007

Perhaps as we celebrate our feasts we will give thanks for our co-religionists who sacrificed much more than we currently do for Zion’s sake. Besides reading Justin’s excellent post, the following are a few journal entries of our religious progenitors:

Thanksgiving celebrations are quite rare until the later 19th century. One earlier account comes from Wilford Woodruff as he labored in the East:

[1848 November] 30th This is thanksgiving day in Mass. I dined upon A Baked goose And plum pudding with my family. (1)

Several writers indicate that the work of the Lord did not rest for the holiday:

[1880 November] 25 Thanksgiving day I received 5 letters. I wrote one letter to Br Bleak. We had quite a snow Storm. Endowments were given to day. There was quite a Number of young folks Married to day. My son James Buried his youngest Son to day. My Daughter Bulah returned home from the East this Evening. (2)

[1895] November 28.–Thursday. In the Temple. This is Thanksgiving Day. We held services 1 hour; Brother James A. Leishman gave a nice address for 45 minutes on the origin of Thanksgiving Day, showing conclusively that it originated with ancient Israel. We had 23 for endowments. Had a nice turkey dinner for the workers and got through at 1 p. m.

[1904] November 23.–Wednesday. I came to Logan yesterday and brought some geese for Thanksgiving dinner for Temple workers on Thursday, as we do not close the Temple. (3)

Wilford Woodruff’s family frequently went hunting for rabbits on Thanksgiving to procure meat for the needy. A couple of illustrative entries:

[1883 November] 29 * I went over Jordon rabbit hunting to Keep Thanksgiving and it was a vary exciting day. There were about 100 men on the ground and I think the hundred men Killed near 1,000 rabits. Asahel and his pardner Teasdale & myself got 24. Asahel and myself got 6 apeace & Teasdal 12. I was weary Come night.

[1895 November] 28 This is Thanksgiving Day. I spent the day at home. Asahel & Ovando C Beebe Joined with the 100 Men who went to Camp Floyd to shoot Rabbits for the poor. Asahel got 26 Ovando 35. The whole Company got 1,800 Rabbits. Asahel Lost his $10 gold spectacles and one Man Lost a gold watch. There was 2 or 3 inches of Snow on the Ground. I received another Letter from Owen to Father Mother Blanche & Alice. (4)

John Henry Smith concisely described his experiences:

Thursday, Nov. 30, 1893 – Salt Lake City [Thanksgiving] I was at the Wasatch building most of the day. We had no Turkey but ate chicken.

Thursday, Nov. 25, 1897 Salt Lake City [Thanksgiving] I spent the day between my two homes or at my homes eating Turkey and visiting. Sarah F. and I attended the opera in the evening. (5)

Brigham Young Jr’s 1900 holiday was not so festive:

Fruitland. Thurs. Nov. 29th, 1900. Thanksgiving but we are too poorly at our house to observe it. Turkeys in plenty but too laborious to prepare them. The day has been made disagreeable by shooting match close to School House. (6)

Senator and Apostle Reed Smoot was a bit more goodly:

[November 26, 1925, The previous day he road aboard the Mayflower] I was at the office for a short time to look over personal letters and the home papers. Played golf with Ernest. Thanksgiving dinner at 2 ocklock. We had with us Mrs. Van Winkel and a lady friend of hers. In the evening had a moving picture shown at the home, entitled Vanishing Americans, a very remarkable production… (7)

At the First Sunday School Convention of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on November 29, 1898, Miss Donnette Smith spoke on the Kindergarten and Infant Classes in the Sunday School. Speaking of the holiday:

Thanksgiving or “thank-you” day–when we share what we have with those less fortunate than ourselves, and thank God for all His gifts to us leads us to Christmas, or the day on which we should praise and thank God for His greatest gift to man–His only begotten Son. The day on which we give gifts of love in similitude of God’s gift to us. (8)



  1. Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 3:390
  2. Ibid., 7:606
  3. Marriner Wood Merrill, Notes from the Miscellaneous Record Book, 1886-1906, New Mormon Studies CD-ROM
  4. Woodruff, 8:209 & 9:377
  5. Jean Bickmore White, Church, State, and Politics, 302 & 383
  6. Diary of Brigham Young Jr., 1900-1902, New Mormon Studies CD-ROM
  7. Heath, In the World, 616
  8. Proceedings of the First Sunday School Convention, 56

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for this, J.

    Comment by Christopher — 11/21/2007 @ 10:45 pm

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