On This Day – November 25th: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of the most popular holidays in the United States, and it’s also celebrated in Canada. Every year, on November 25th, families come together to give thanks for the blessings of the year over a nice dinner and it’s a wonderful time.

The American holiday is believed to be based on a harvest feast in 1621 that the English colonists of Plymouth shared with the Wampanoag people, who are Native Americans. This is a holiday that’s rich in symbolism and there are many legends behind it, so it has a rich history.

The History of Thanksgiving

In September 1620, the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, with 102 passengers who were looking for a new home. Some of them were religious separatists and they were looking for a place where they could practice their faith freely. The rest of the passengers were driven by the promise of prosperity in the New World.

When they got to the New World, the Mayflower reached Massachusetts Bay and the Pilgrims, as they’re most commonly known, began to establish their village. However, the winter was harsh and though they remained in the ship, half of the passengers succumbed to exposure, scurvy, and contagious diseases.

In March, the Pilgrims moved ashore where they were visited by an Abenaki Native American. Days later, he came back with Squanto, another Native American who was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe. At that moment, the Pilgrims were weak and malnourished, so he helped them learn to grow corn, catch fish, extract sap from maple trees, and identify poisonous plants.

Squanto also assisted them in creating an alliance with the Wampanoag. This alliance would last for 50 years and it’s sadly one of the few cases of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.

The Beginning of Thanksgiving

In November 1621, the Pilgrims had their first successful corn harvest, so Governor William Bradford arranged a feast to celebrate the harvest and they invited their allies from the Wampanoag tribe, including their chief, Massasoit. Though they didn’t use the term at the time, this was the first Thanksgiving in American history and the festival went on for 3 days.

That first Thanksgiving menu is not exactly known, but according to Historians, it’s likely that most of the dishes were prepared using traditional cooking methods and spices from the Native Americans. They also didn’t have dessert in the form of cakes or pies because they didn’t have an oven and the sugar supply was very low.

In 1963 they celebrated Thanksgiving for a second time to celebrate the end of a long drought. In 1789, President George Washington issued a Thanksgiving proclamation, which was the first of its kind, and it called upon the people to express their gratitude for the conclusion of the war of independence and the ratification of the Constitution. Presidents John Adams and James Madison also designated Thanksgiving days.

New York was the first state in the U.S. to officially adopt Thanksgiving as an annual holiday, starting in 1817. In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale began a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln finally obliged by making a proclamation and scheduled the holiday for the final Thursday of November. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill to make Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving Traditions

Today, the holiday doesn’t have as much religious significance as it once had. Thanksgiving is centered on making a big meal and turkey has become synonymous with it. It’s traditional to make a bountiful dinner that includes a baked, roasted, or deep-fried turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, though other dishes may be served.

Apart from celebrating Thanksgiving with a big meal among friends and family, Thanksgiving Parades have also become a part of the tradition. They happen all over the country, one of the most attractive ones being the New York City Thanksgiving Day parade because it’s the largest one. If you want to celebrate Thanksgiving, following tradition is the best way to do that. You can also take the opportunity to learn more about the history of Thanksgiving by reading a book or watching a documentary about it.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

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