If anything, the Thanksgiving proved to heighten the sense of family, of thanks, of loss and of life for Jacqueline Kennedy. This was certainly true of the holiday in 1960. That year, Thanksgiving fell on Thursday November 24 and came just sixteen days after the life-changing event of having her husband elected President of the United States.
Being pregnant with an expectation of delivery within days, Mrs. Kennedy had a small and quiet Thanksgiving dinner with her husband and their three-year old daughter Caroline.
The next day, the President-elect flew to his family’s winter estate home in Palm Beach, Florida. And shortly thereafter, he received word on the plane taking him there that Jacqueline Kennedy had been rushed to Georgetown University Hospital unexpectedly going into labor and giving birth to their son, John F. Kennedy, Jr.
Her first Thanksgiving as First Lady proved somewhat of a disappointment.
Jacqueline Kennedy had been looking forward to hosting an early first birthday party of her son in 1961.
As she was driven from the White House with the President and their daughter, however, there was no sign of the toddler First Son.
Having developed a bad cold, it turned out, she had decided to be cautious and not have him fly up with them, nor be exposed to the frigid temperatures of the family’s compound of houses in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
Her consolation instead was to host a second birthday party for Charlie, her daughter’s welsh terrier dog.
Despite this being the family’s first Thanksgiving celebrated with their son as President, his parents had decided to leave their Hyannis home earlier than usual, opting instead for the warmer climate of Florida, celebrating at their Palm Beach estate.
“I miss all the noise and activity we used to have,” the senior Mrs. Kennedy told a reporter as if she were any other American grandmother.
“My children have their own children and everyone is involved in different circles,” she explained further. “I suppose it’s that way all over America – the big families don’t all congregate anymore on big holidays and that’s a shame.”
The following year, the senior Kennedys were in Hyannis when the First Lady arrived early with her children, the President to follow the day before Thanksgiving.
By all accounts, it was relaxing for her, a chance to spend the four day weekend reading while the President held meetings with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, a close friend to them both.
It is only in retrospect that this particular holiday would prove important to Jacqueline Kennedy.
That year the holiday fell on November 22.
She could not know it but that Thanksgiving marked a year to the day that she would have left with her husband.
He would be assassinated the following year, in Dallas, Texas, as she sat beside him.
Three days before Thanksgiving in 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy presided over the state funeral and burial of her assassinated husband, President Kennedy.
On the holiday, November 28, she agreed to interrupt the necessarily frenetic process of packing her family’s possessions in anticipation of having to move out of the White House.
She had originally planned to join Senator Edward Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Jean Kennedy Smith and Pat Kennedy Lawford, and their spouses and children on the family plane, The Caroline, in heading home to Hyannis for the traditional gathering (Attorney General Robert Kennedy and his family decided to remain at their McLean, Virginia home to celebrate the holiday there).
However, at the last minute she felt the impulse to again visit her late husband’s gravesite, and arrived later, joined by her sister and brother-in-law Lee Radziwill and Stanislaus Radziwill. Landing at Otis Air Force Base, she was whisked off to the family compound.
Rather than go to her own Irving Street home there, she proceeded directly to the main house of her in-laws and went immediately up to see her father-in-law who remained unable to speak after having suffered a stroke two years earlier.
A family friend said she spent the holiday in “deep grief but without hysteria.”
Yet that particular Thanksgiving in Hyannis, despite the freezing cold rain which further darkened the desolate mood in the widowed First Lady’s home, she steeled herself into granting a Life magazine interview with journalist Teddy White.
Despite her grief, Jackie felt an intense obligation to leave an emotional and lingering, if romanticized, view of her beloved husband.
She proved not so much to answer any of Teddy White’s questions as she was to insistently drive into his story for Life her emphatic interpretations on how not just the American nation but the world and history itself should best remember him.
It was in that interview that she first referenced the historical comparison between her husband’s brief Administration and a mythical kingdom, an analogy which she later regretted. Still, the public’s imagination was captured by what she dubbed as “Camelot.”
In the three decades during which Jacqueline Kennedy survived her first husband, Thanksgiving weekend was a period mixed with emotions both solemn and happy.
For her, the holiday would never lose its tragic association with the JFK assassination and she would annually attend a memorial service in a Catholic church on the anniversary of his death, whether in New York near her Fifth Avenue apartment or one close to her New Jersey countryside home.
And yet, the period also marked the birthdays of her two children and these three Kennedys created a new tradition of celebrating over the four-day weekend at their New Jersey residence.
She also learned to develop a tradition which personally fortified her.
Each Thanksgiving morning, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would dress in her formal riding habit, mount her horse and relish the heart-pounding foxhunts of the Essex County Hunt, flying through the bracing cold air on her large horse.
It was, many friends observed, a way of affirming life over death for a woman who had experienced tragedies and triumphs to such a great degree.