Origin and History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is a holiday well known all around the world and is celebrated primarily in Canada and the United States. This holiday is celebrated each year on the second Monday of October in Canada and on the last Thursday of November in the United States. It has a long history which can be traced back to 17th Century but no one knows the  exact origin.

Some historians claim “In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies.”

The other legend goes that in September 1620, a ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers who were later known as the Pilgrims, making them the first European settlement in New England. Most of these men and women sought a new home where they could freely practice their religious faith without fear of persecution while others were lured by promises of wealth and land ownership. It wasn’t smooth sailing for these pilgrims. After enduring a treacherous journey that lasted 66 days, they finally made it to the New World. Dropping anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, they made their way to Massachusetts Bay soon after where they started to build a village. However it was never going to be easy for the pilgrims. Throughout their first harsh winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from cold exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of various contagious disease. In the end, only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring.

The remaining survivors moved ashore, where they met an Abenaki Indian who spoke their native tongue, English. He then introduced them to another native Indian, one from the Pawtuxet tribe. His name was Squanto and he taught the Pilgrims, savaged and greatly weakened by malnutrition and illness, the ways of the land – poisonous plants, herbs etc. He showed them how to live off the land too – how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, and catch fish in the rivers. Squanto also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years. In November 1621, after the pilgrims’ first successful corn harvest, then Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited the Plymouth pilgrims’ allies, some 90 men including the Wampanoag Chief Massasoit. They ate fowl and deer for certain and most likely also ate berries, fish, clams, plums, and boiled pumpkin. This later become what was known as America’s first Thanksgiving. Soon after this practice of giving thanks caught on in other New England settlements and during the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year. In 1789 American President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States. Washington called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the conclusion to the country’s fight for independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

However it wasn’t until 1863 that Thanksgiving was officially declared as a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln. He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt under pressure from retailers, decided to move the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. But this change wasn’t welcomed and two years later he signed a new bill in, reverting the holiday back to its original date, the fourth Thursday of November.

 

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