The History Of Thanksgiving – How Did It All Start?

Thanksgiving is the national holiday in the United States of America. His origins root to a harvest festival which occurs all around the world. The celebration of Thanksgiving started in 1789 with the proclamation by George Washington who had received a request from a congress. Today we celebrate it on the fourth Thursday of November.

When is Thanksgiving – Fourth or last Thursday?

This, like many other things, changed. Despite the fact that besides all the historic resources, traces and legacies, past remains vague, there are some clear points in the holiday evolution from intermittent to federal. After George Washington, the next stop is Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln Proclamation

The President

Before the Civil War and the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving day was celebrated intermittently. Then the president decided to convert the day into a federal holiday. The proclamation happened in 1863 while the Civil War was still raging. At that time, Abraham Lincoln clearly stated that a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in Havens” will be annually celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

In 1939 President Roosevelt changed the date of holiday moving it to the fourth Thursday of November instead of last. He did this because of the Great Depression. It was a parlous economic crisis on a world scale. It occurred in various countries at a similar time between 1929-1939. The US was hit in 1930 and president Roosevelt thought that moving the Thanksgiving to the fourth week was going to enhance retail sales. The decision triggered a lot of protests and resistance but from 1941 the new way was accepted. Franklin’s act was remembered as “Frankgiving“.

When Did the First Thanksgiving Take Place?

Acts that imply dedicating time to thank God for what he has given together with holding feasts to celebrate harvest go deep in a past way before European conquerors set their foot onto the soils of the New World. Despite this fact, history books agreed to take a specific period of time for the answer on when did first Thanksgiving happen.

Sometime between September and November of 1621, on the grounds of Plymouth colony today known as Massachusetts, the first Thanksgiving celebration in history occurred. Back then, those lands were mostly inhabited by the indigenous folks who knew their way around. Unfortunately, pilgrims that came by Mayflower ship did not. That’s the reason why, on the first celebration, there were only 53 out of 102 passengers. After the hard sail over the ocean winter came up as the next challenge. Disease and starvation did their part and split the number of living in half. The facts about the first celebration are misty because only the two first-hand accounts that refer to the event had been found.

Known sources:

  • “Of Plymouth Plantation”(Journal) by Wiliam Bradford
  • “Mourt’s Relations”(Publication) by Edward Winslow

First American History Book – Of Plymouth Plantation By William Bradford

The author of this journal or diary is William Bradford, one of the Pilgrims that managed to survive the obstacles of the New World long enough to write about it. The account was created sometime between 1630 and 1651. Its length was 270 page and was written in the form of two books. What makes this book so interesting is the width of content that consists of the pilgrim’s living in the Netherlands, sailing over the ocean and adventures in the New World. This book possesses more incredible attributes that make it’s value infinite.

  • It is the first American history book. If national history is the father of a nation, then this book would be the proud foundation of American identity.
  • Speaks of the travel on the Mayflower ship which is also considered to be the most important ship in American history.
  • Gives the first-hand overview of the pilgrim’s lives both in Europe and the New World.
  • Describes the first Thanksgiving celebration.
  • Noble attentions as the foundation of motivation for writing the book. William explicitly expressed that he writes this book for no other reason than creating a legacy that will allow the offsprings to feel thankful towards the life they have knowing what their ancestors went through to make that possible.

The manuscript had not been published during the Wiliam’s lifetime.

Mourt’s Relations – Publication by Edward Winslow

The full title of this publication is “A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England.” The formal author is Edward Winslow but the first section had been written by Wiliam Bradford. It was written between November of 1620 and November of 1621 and its content describes what happened from the moment of a ship landing at a harbor until establishing a Plymouth colony. There are notes about explorations of the new world and rich descriptions of relationships between pilgrims and native Americans. The ending point of the book is the arrival of the ship Fortune in 1621. The author of this publication soon died (1624).

First Thanksgiving – How did it Actually Look Like?

There are, as it has already been stated in this article, very few sources that describe the first feast but when combined with the resources gathered by professional anthropologists specialized in reconstructing past diets a more clear picture of past emerges.

Misapprehensions Vs Facts

Today, in the 21st century we have the relatively same point of view regarding the look of Thanksgiving. Beloved members of the family gather for a meal. Faces are smiling while the lady of the house is setting turkey in the middle of the table. It looks delicious. There are salats, potatoes and at the and everyone will have a sweet sweet pumpkin pie. And all that within the family. Without any indigenous tribe. Well, that’s just not what it used to be.

Guest of Suprise – An Indigenous Tribe Attended the First Thanksgiving Feast

Wampanoag tribe attended the first feast. They had come with a bunch of gifts and joined the meal. The leader of the tribe was present together with 90 other tribe members. These were the indigenous inhabitants of the New World that lived in the territory of southern Massachusetts and Rhoad Islands. They had a sad end that emerged as a combination of epidemy and war that brought their population to extinction.

Not Turkey but a Duck

First of all, there was no turkey. The waterfall was, as it is now, plentiful in the area of Massachusetts which makes it more probable that they had been eating goose or duck rather than a turkey.

Stew Instead of Cranberry Sauce

Despite the fact that the bogs of Massachusetts contain wild cranberries there were no traces of cranberry sauce in the records about the food that was presented to the guests. This may be due to a position of Plymouth Plantation which is several miles away from boggy regions.

No Mashed Potatoes – Only a Cornbread

The first crop of potatoes in the New World happened in New Hampshire 1722 so there is absolutely no way that this food could be found on the Thanksgiving feast. But there was a lot of cornbread which Wampanoag tribe introduced as one of the best gifts they had to offer. They called it “maizium.” Pilgrims considered the bread acceptable. But truth to be told they disliked the native food very much.

Say Goodbye to Pumpkin Pie – No Sweets

This might be the hardest part for our imagination to create. Can you picture a Thanksgiving without a whole Empire of Sweets? And what about a feast with no dessert at all. Suger came to New England(the New World under English government) in the 18th century. There was no maple syrup either.

A true Thanksgiving celebration came in 1623. It was followed by a 14-day rain that improved the harvest. By some calculations, the celebration took place on July 30.

Thanksgiving in American War of Independence and Civil War

The First National Proclamation

The war started in 1775 and ended in 1783. During that time the continental congress appointed more thanksgiving days per year. The observance of those days was highly recommended to all states. In 1777 was the first national proclamation of Thanksgiving as a victory day after the remainings of the English army that wanted to take Hudson river surrendered. This was the crucial victory that decided the outcome of the war.

Presidential Proclamation of Thanksgiving

The final proclamation of the Thanksgiving day was committed by the president Lincoln himself and with a few changes, it lasted ever since. But that might have not happened if there wasn’t for one special lady whose efforts resulted in what we know as history. Her name was Sarah Josepha Hale and she was both a writer and an influential editor. What made her enter history in the first place was the famous campaign for the creation of the Thanksgiving holiday. Sarah advocacy for Thanksgiving lasted more than 17 years and had begun in 1846. Back then all of the US countries had its own date of celebration while most of the south didn’t celebrate it at all. At the time there were five presidents but none of them were interested in what Sarah had to say. Non but Abraham Lincoln. Eventually, after many attempts, she managed to persuade Abraham to support the legislation of the national holiday which became a unifying day for all the nation. The proclamation happened on October 3, 1863.

Interesting Traditions From Past

Thanksgiving history is known for a bundle of traditions that varied from one region to another. New England for example, from Thanksgiving dawn till dusk, had certain customs that were gladly excepted and implemented by most folks. The morning was reserved for a “shootout”. It was actually a competition in marksmanship in which the turkeys and geese were used as targets. Next was church service followed by a traditional feast. Besides turkey, pumpkin pie and other well known Thanksgiving staples there would be some completely weird stuff like pigeon pie. Then, in the evening, a raffle would be held and the prizes would be geese and turkeys. In the New York people would put on fancy masks and merge into the mob. This had turned into the Ragamuffin parade that was mainly consisted of children masked into beggars. Lat the kids started wearing all kinds of costumes, but eventually, this event was pushed to margins bay the Halloween.

Different Opinions – Additional Explanations of Events

There is a large number of historians that deny statements that are observed as facts by formal American history.

Some of those theories consider these statements to be the facts:

  • The first Thanksgiving emerged from the massacre of Pequot people. While there is no attempt to despite the fact that the feast occurred in 1621 together with Wampoang people, this theory is claiming that Plymouth celebration was not the foundation of our modern Thanksgiving.
  • Pilgrims did not seek religious freedom but a place suitable for establishing a religious theocracy. If it was about the freedom they would have stayed in Holand.
  • Indigenous people weren’t invited to join the feast. In the founded sources, there isn’t a single line that states anything about the Wampanoag tribe being invited to join. How did they become the guests of the celebration is still unknown.

Positive Psychology as Foundation of US National Legacy

The term Thanksgiving itself has enormous positive energy and spiritual context. Taking time to, together with those that are dear and close to you, express gratitude for what you have is the irreplaceable example for American youth of how should they treat life and beloved ones. The painful fact is that our civilization has whole rivers of blood in its past and that there is almost no place on earth where a human being wasn’t killed in the bloodthirsty fight for domination. Who knows, maybe Thanksgiving was celebrated after the massacre of Pequot people. If that is true it is both bad and sad. But it is what it is and it cannot be changed. Yet it can be used for learning and advancing to the level that will raise us above the weaknesses that led us into making mistakes. In order to do so, we must not mistake the idea itself for entities or occurrences that are surrounding it. The decision to take some time and use it to express gratitude towards life should be respected and kept safe from attempts of devaluation that come from those who, despite their noble intentions, fail to make that distinction.









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