Thanksgiving Day is approaching. This year, the day, which is celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November, falls on November 25. On this day, pageants are held on thanksgiving at schools, children don headdresses colored with craft-store feathers and share tables with classmates wearing black construction paper hats. Kids wish each other and love the feeling of togetherness!
Do you know that there is an interesting history behind the Thanksgiving celebrations? Let us look into the history & dive into the Thanksgiving story.
The real Thanksgiving story behind the celebrations
At the beginning of the 17th century, a group of English Protestants, called Puritans (aka Pilgrims), wanted to break away from the Church of England. The group moved to Holland but suffered financial problems there.
In 1620, they received funds from English merchants and a group of 101 people, including women and children. These funds were left in a small ship called the Mayflower in September to settle at a different place near present-day New York City.
After a tiring journey of 66 days, the group dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination, at the mouth of the Hudson River.
One month later, the Puritans sailed through Massachusetts Bay and began the work of setting up a village at Plymouth. However, the visitors spent their first winter on the ship.
Historians say that half of the settlers died of cold and a contagious disease on the ship. In March, the remaining settlers moved to the nearby coastal area, which was then inhabited by many Native American tribes.
One day, Samoset, a leader of the local Abenaki people, and Tisquantum (also known as Squanto) visited the settlers. Squanto, who belonged to the local Wampanoag community, knew English. Squanto taught the Puritans, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. After several meetings, in March 1621, a formal agreement was made between the native people and the settlers, also mentioned in the history books as colonists, for mutual cooperation.
Watch this video to help your kids know all about the Thanksgiving story!
The first thanksgiving ever!
In November 1621, after the colonists’ first successful corn harvest, their Governor William Bradford planned a celebratory feast. Four settlers were also sent to hunt for the feast. When Wampanoag people heard the gunshots, they thought the colonists might be coming for war and alerted their leader, Massasoit. Massasoit then left with around 90 men for the English settlement.
Related Reading: Fun Thanksgiving Activities for Kids to Keep Them Busy!
After reaching there, Massasoit discovered that the English were only hunting for the harvest celebration. The Native Americans then joined the settlers in their celebrations. Massasoit also sent some of his own men for hunting.
A grand feast was organized, in which the English and native men, women, and children ate together. The meal consisted of deer, corn, shellfish, and roasted meat. There were no sweet dishes as the Mayflower’s sugar supply had finished by then. The celebrations went on for three days. People of the two communities also sang and danced together.
Declaration of Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday
After the November 1621 celebratory feast at Plymouth, Puritans held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623, following a year of drought. During the American Revolution (1765-1791), the Continental Congress called for one or more days of thanksgiving a year.
In 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the US national government. He also called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy ending of the country’s independence war. His successors John Adams and James Madison also followed the trend.
In 1817, New York became the first of several US states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday.
In 1827, the famous journalist, Sarah Josepha Hale, launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to government representatives. Finally, at the height of the Civil War in 1863, Abraham Lincoln scheduled Thanksgiving Day for the final Thursday in November.
In 1939, Franklin D Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week during the Great Depression. However, Roosevelt’s plan faced strong opposition and two years later he had to reluctantly shift the day to the fourth Thursday in November.
Current traditions and rituals of Thanksgiving day
In many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original religious significance. It now revolves around cooking and sharing food with family and friends.
According to the National Turkey Federation, about 90 percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Other traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Volunteering is a common activity on this day and communities often offer free dinners for the poor. Parades are taken out in cities and towns across the United States.
Controversies around Thanksgiving
There are apprehensions whether the feast at Plymouth really constituted the first Thanksgiving in the US, as some historians have recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America.
For instance, the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé invited members of the local Timucua tribe to a dinner in Florida’s St Augustine in 1565 after the safe arrival of his crew.
Apart from that, some Native Americans have issues with how the Thanksgiving story is presented to the world.
In their view, the traditional narrative paints a deceptive picture of the relations between the Puritans and the Wampanoag people. They believe it overlooks the bloody history of conflict between Native Americans and European settlers, which resulted in the death of thousands of people. It is said that the peace between the Native Americans and settlers lasted for around 50 years.
Now, the Wampanoag people do not take part in the Thanksgiving Day celebrations, as they see it as a “reminder of betrayal and bloodshed”. Since 1970, every year people of the community assemble at the top of Cole’s Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, and observe the day as “National Day of Mourning.” Some people say it’s time to reevaluate the meaning and celebration of the holiday.
A welcome holiday
Irrespective of the controversy surrounding the day, there is no doubt that it is many people’s favorite holiday. From the amazing turkey dinner to the cozy gathering of family and friends, the day provides the fun of Christmas, minus the stress of decorating and gift-giving. It provides us an opportunity for a stress-free holiday focused on food and fun.
Many people like the day for its welcoming spirit and sense of community. Thanksgiving is a holiday that welcomes all, regardless of religious beliefs or cultural traditions. It also provides time to reflect on our lives, appreciate what we have, who we are, and where we are right now.
SplashLearn wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How did Thanksgiving get its name?
In November 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Native Americans shared an autumn harvest feast. The feast was organized by the colonists to thank the native people for their cooperation. Hence, it is acknowledged as Thanksgiving day today.
When was Thanksgiving declared a public holiday?
On September 28, 1789, the First Federal Congress in the United States, passed a resolution seeking the president’s nod to declare Thanksgiving a public holiday.
A few days later, George Washington, the first President of the US, proclaimed November 26 (Thursday) as a “Day of Public Thanksgiving”. However, it was President Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863 proclaimed Thanksgiving a public holiday to be commemorated every year on the last Thursday of November.
Why did the date of Thanksgiving change every year?
In 1939, the last year of the Great Depression, the last Thursday of November was on the last day of the month. US President Franklin D Roosevelt became concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen economic recovery.
He, therefore, moved Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. Some 32 states consequently issued similar proclamations, but 16 states refused to accept the change. As a result, for two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving.
To end the confusion, on October 6, 1941, Congress set last Thursday in November as a fixed date for the holiday.