Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast. That feast is today acknowledged as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies.
In September 1620, a small ship the “Mayflower” left Plymouth, England, with 102 passengers. The first winter most of the colonists remained on board the ship. They suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the survivors moved ashore. They were visited by an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, who was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe. Squanto had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery. He escaped and returned to his homeland. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, who had been weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to survive. He also helped them forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe.
In November 1621, to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first successful corn harvest Governor William Bradford organised a feast. He invited a group of the colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. The festival lasted for three days.
In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale a noted magazine editor and writer launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years she published editorials and sent letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
For some scholars, whether the feast at Plymouth actually constituted the first Thanksgiving in the United States is in doubt. Other ceremonies of “thanks” performed by European settlers in North America have been recorded. They predate the Pilgrims’ celebration. Historians have also noted that Native Americans had a rich tradition of commemorating the fall harvest with feasting and celebration long before Europeans arrived.( https://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving)
Did you know?
- Lobster, seal and swans were on the Pilgrims’ menu
- In 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States.
- In 1817, New York became the first of several states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday.
- Sarah Josepha Hale who campaigned for Thanksgiving to be a national holiday is most well-known for the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”
- New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the largest and most famous, attracting some 2 to 3 million spectators along its 2.5-mile route. It’s been presented by Macy’s department store since 1924.
- In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to encourage retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan was known as “Franksgiving”. It was met with fierce opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.