Thanksgiving Day - fourth Thursday in November
Throughout the history of mankind, we have shown our appreciation for life in many forms. On the fourth Thursday of November, many in the United States observe the annual celebration of Thanksgiving Day. While the specific origin of the first Thanksgiving celebration in the United States is debated by some, many historians agree that a thanksgiving feast of sorts first took place sometime in November of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
It all began when a small group of immigrants, later to be known as "the Pilgrims," set sail from Plymouth, England on a ship called the Mayflower. These Pilgrims were headed to America seeking religious and political freedom in the "New World," and after a treacherous and uncomfortable 66-day journey landed near their destination in the winter of 1620. The first winter that the under-prepared Pilgrims witnessed was devastating and reportedly took the lives of almost half of their small group. In an attempt to survive the winter, many of the Pilgrims remained onboard the ship. In spring, the survivors moved ashore with plans to establish the Plymouth Colony.
The Pilgrims were then met by a few men of the local Wampanoag tribe, who were sent as representatives to check out the newcomers. Once they saw that the Pilgrims were in dire need of assistance in order to survive, the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to grow crops like corn, where to catch the best fish, and which fruits and plants were safe to eat and which were poisonous. It is said that without the assistance of the Wampanoag the Pilgrims may not have survived.
Both the Native American and the English cultures were known to participate in a harvest-themed "thanksgiving" celebration to give thanks to their respective deities for a successful harvest season. So, when the Pilgrims had their first successful harvest in this "New World" they wanted to celebrate and give thanks. The Pilgrims began to prepare a feast of corn, barley, pumpkins, peas and wild fowl. It was recorded in the journal of the then Governor of Plymouth Colony, William Bradford, that he "sent four men on a fowling mission," and they returned with plenty, stating "besides water fowl, there was great store of wild turkeys." They invited their neighbors to join them; the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer and other goods to add to the feast. It has been recorded that this festival lasted for three days.
While many believe this to be the story of the First Thanksgiving, it is also known by historians that this particular celebration was not repeated as a tradition for several years. It wasn't until much later, during the American Revolution, that the Continental Congress actually designated multiple days of thanksgiving.
In 1789, the first president of the United States, President George Washington, issued the very first Presidential Proclamation in U.S. history declaring Thursday, November 26th as "A Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer." The president called upon the American people to express their gratitude for the end of the war of independence and the successful passage of the U.S. Constitution; this was the very first "official" Thanksgiving Day. While celebrations were observed in various states, Thanksgiving did not actually become a national holiday until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln set the date for the final Thursday in November. Observances took place on that date every year since, until 1939 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date up a week, in an attempt to boost holiday sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt's plan, which came to be known sarcastically as "Franksgiving," was not widely accepted by the public. In 1941 the president changed the date back to the fourth Thursday in November, which continues to be the day of observance.
Typically, modern Thanksgiving celebrations include family gatherings, which may also include close friends, surrounding a feast of traditional dishes. The most common dish served at an American Thanksgiving feast is the turkey; whether it is roasted, baked or deep-fried, serving a turkey is possibly one of the truest meal traditions that links back to the First Thanksgiving. While it is likely, it cannot be confirmed for certain that an actual turkey was served at the First Thanksgiving. However, it is known that the Pilgrims and Native Americans did serve some type of "wild fowl." Some other typical modern dishes include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
Along with the much-anticipated meal, a few other traditions have evolved over the years that many look forward to on Thanksgiving. One such event is the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade", which is the largest and most famous of the many Thanksgiving Day parades across the United States. The Macy's parade has been held in New York City since 1924. This parade features large helium filled balloons depicting the most current cartoon icons, marching bands, elaborate floats and music performances.
Football fans often look forward to the annual NFL Thanksgiving Day games. Nearly every level of football, from the amateur and high school to college and the NFL, have played football on Thanksgiving since the first all-pro league formed in 1902. This custom gained recognition when the NFL formed in 1920 and became immortalized as a tradition when the first televised football game, between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears, was aired on Thanksgiving in 1934.
There have been many and varied traditions we have started and continued over the years in conjunction with Thanksgiving Day, and it has become a staple in the history of the United States. Be it family, friends, a good meal or any other aspect of daily life, we all can have something to be thankful for.
Please note: Although we believe the information on this page to be accurate, its purpose is intended for the entertainment and enjoyment of our readers. It should not be taken as literal truth or used for research. We are human and make mistakes (rarely, but it does happen), so if you find a discrepancy, please email us and let us know. We will gladly update our information.
Click here to read some great quotes such as:
"Thanksgiving comes to us out of the prehistoric dimness, universal to all ages and all faiths. At whatever straws we must grasp, there is always a time for gratitude and new beginnings."
~J. Robert Moskin
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
~John Fitzgerald Kennedy
"Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow."
~Edward Sandford Martin