The Thanksgiving holiday is uniquely American. Thanksgiving Day and is generally associated with turkey, football and families gathering around the dinner table. The history of this holiday goes all the way back the arrival of the Pilgrims in America. It marked one of the few instances where Europeans colonizers and Native Americans were able to coexist peacefully.
Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the last Thursday in November.
About the Pilgrims
In 1620, the Mayflower set sail for the New World from Plymouth, England. The ship was carrying a variety of religious separatists. The passengers were in search of a new home where they would be free from religious persecution. They would spend 66 days en route to the New World. They would wind up dropping their anchor in Cape Cod instead of at their intended destination, which was Hudson Bay.
About the Wampanoag
The Wampanoag tribe lived in the parts of the northeast that would eventually be known as New England, specifically the states of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The Pilgrims' first contact with Native Americans would be made in March 1621. The Wampanoag tribe's chief would visit the settlement shortly after.
The Wampanoag and the Pilgrims exchanged gifts and signed a peace treaty that would last for 50 years.
The First Thanksgiving
The meal shared by the Pilgrims and Native Americans in late 1621 is the one commemorated today. This feast was organized by Governor William Bradford. The feast was to celebrate the colonist’s first successful harvest. Also, the first Thanksgiving was a means for the Pilgrims to ingratiate themselves with the Wampanoag. As newcomers to the Americas, they relied on the Native Americans for survival in the wilderness. At the feast there were 50 Pilgrims and 90 members of the Wampanoag tribe.
One record of the feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans lists lobster, corn, and dried fruits as being among the foods eaten. There is no record of turkey being on the menu at the 1621 feast. The turkey would not take on its starring role in Thanksgiving dinner until the 19th century.
Some people believe that the turkey became a Thanksgiving staple because of the influence of Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale was the editor of Godey's Lady's Book. She was also a champion of a national Thanksgiving holiday.
A National Holiday
Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated as a federal holiday since being declared as one by President Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln made the declaration in 1863 but his was not the first thanksgiving proclamation. The first came from George Washington. The nation's father made the first Thanksgiving day proclamation in order to give thanks for the end of the War of Independence. The holiday also celebrated the ratification of the US constitution.
New York would be the first state to have an official Thanksgiving holiday; it adopted the holiday in 1817. Several other states followed suit, each of which celebrated it on a different day.
In 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt would sign a bill that made the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day.
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