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Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated by Americans on the fourth Thursday of November. It is regarded as a time to come together with loved ones and share thanks for the things for which are blessings. The most common way of celebrating is with a bountiful feast. But, where did this tradition come from? Well, this holiday is older than the United States itself.
In 1620, a ship called the Mayflower left its port in Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers who hoped to practice their religion in a new land freely. Finally, after 66 days of grueling travel, they landed in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A month later, they crossed the Massachusetts bay and began to build a village also named Plymouth.
After their first devastating winter in America, the pilgrims were visited by an Abenaki Native American who spoke English. A few days later, he returned with another Native American named Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe.
Squanto had seen Europeans before as he was previously kidnapped and sold into slavery, only to escape and return to his homeland. He taught the pilgrims how to survive by farming corn, tapping trees for sap, and a variety of other required survival skills. Squanto helped form an alliance that would remain for over 50 years.
First Thanksgivings Celebrated
In 1621, the pilgrims had their first fruitful corn harvest, and in celebration, a feast was planned that included their Native American Allies. This is known as the first Thanksgiving. The feast lasted for three days, and most, if not all, of the food, was prepared using Native American cooking methods as there was no oven brought over on the Mayflower. The second Thanksgiving was held in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought that threatened the harvest that year, and Thanksgiving became common practice for multiple other pilgrim settlements as well.
A century later, during the American Revolution, the Continental Congress declared one or more days of Thanksgiving per year. In 1789 George Washington wrote a proclamation urging Americans to be grateful for their victory and their country’s independence. However, it was not until 1863 that Thanksgiving became a national holiday.
In the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln asked all Americans to “commend to…[God] tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He then scheduled Thanksgiving for the last Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day for 66 years until Franklin D. Roosevelt moved it up.
Thanksgiving has deep roots in American society and tradition, dating back 400 years. It has provided hope in times of drought, war, and poverty. Since its origin, Thanksgiving has always been about being grateful, especially in times of need.
Written by Joseph Nelson
Edited by Sheena Robertson
HISTORY: Thanksgiving 2021
BRITANNICA: Thanksgiving Day; by David J. Silverman
Featured and Top Image by Sarah Davis Courtesy of mamichan’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Steve Calcott’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License