The History of Thanksgiving

”Best Wishes For A Happy Thanksgiving Day” – an ornate illustration from a vintage greeting card – circa 1910

Thanksgiving has been a holiday that we have celebrated for centuries but do any of us really know what Thanksgiving is all about or where it started?  Many of us are aware that the first Thanksgiving was considered to be held between the pilgrims and the Native Americans many centuries ago but that is about all we know.

Although this is a great start to knowing about Thanksgiving, it is important to understand that celebrating thanks has been a tradition that was already steeped in time long before the pilgrims ever made it to Plymouth Rock. In fact, Native American tribes in North America have celebrated the fall harvest for centuries before we even though to do it.  It was a yearly tradition, when all the harvests were stored and everyone was ready for the hard winter to descend upon them, they would give thanks for the wonderful bounty that they were able to store.

Also, if we look at celebrating the fall harvest in general, then we can trace this type of celebration back to Ancient Egypt where Egyptians would hold a parade and feast in the honor of Min, the Egyptian god of fertility and vegetation.

For most of us, we trace Thanksgiving back to that one day in 1621 when the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock sat down with the Wampanoag tribe and had a feast together to celebrate the harvest that they had gathered.

It was a time to celebrate for both the tribe and the pilgrims and to give thanks for the harvest, and the friendship that had begun between both peoples.  Thanksgiving became a symbol, not only of being thankful for the bounty but of cooperation between the Native Americans and the European settlers that were arriving to the shores of North America.

During the first Thanksgiving, the fare was not the traditional food that we have come to enjoy but a much simpler and in some ways richer fair than what we would spread our table with.

Since vegetables could not be stored for a long period of time and most of them were out of season during the first Thanksgiving, there were very few served.  Instead, most of the food consisted of different types of meats, although the exact food served is unclear.  It is clear; however, that the pilgrims did eat roasted venison and wild fowl.  And no, there probably wasn’t any pumpkin pie or any pies for that matter since there were no ovens available to bake them.

Although there was no official Thanksgiving until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, it was celebrated for centuries.  Generally, it was done after a harvest to celebrate the success of the year.

Before President Lincoln made Thanksgiving a holiday, many states across the United States had already made local holidays for a day of Thanksgiving, although the dates were different from state to state.  In fact, New York was the first state to officially practice this holiday when they started in 1817.

Since then, Thanksgiving has been celebrated by Americans, generally on the 4th Thursday of every November and Canada has been celebrating Thanksgiving since 1879 on the second Monday of October.

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