Everyone is well aware of the reasons for the Thanksgiving celebrations. It was the year 1621, when the ‘first Thanksgiving’ was celebrated by the colonists of ‘Plymouth’ and Wampanoag Indians collectively.The term‘Thanksgiving’ is synonymous to the traditional food being cooked on this day, to be more precise – a big fat turkey.
It was in September 1620 when a ship, Mayflower, had left with 102 passengers from England’s Plymouth in search of a new place to settle and they after a cumbersome journey reached Massachusetts Bay. The passengers(who later came to be known as Pilgrims) and the Wampanoag tribe, in the month of November 1621, celebrated the first Thanksgiving and enjoyed the feast of roasted turkeys, stuffing and sweet potatoes. These celebrations and the feast lasted three days.
Unlike the heavy rock-solid 20-pound turkeys of today, the traditional turkeys used to weigh only eight pounds. Hence, because of this traditionally, seafood and other meats were critical parts of the feast.
In fact, tons of savory as well as sweet pies were baked, so as to preserve meats and fruits. The Pumpkin Pie, a traditional food of ‘Thanksgiving’, is believed to be an English recipe originally involving slices of apple baked and pumpkin in a pie crust.
It is a lesser known fact that it was only the first Thanksgiving which was a secular event was not repeated later but a Calvinist Thanksgiving was held in 1623, which however, did not involve any customs of food sharing with the Native Americans.
All the states were celebrating Thanksgiving on different dates, however, it was Lincoln, the then President,who declared this day as a national holiday in 1863.
Sarah Josepha Hale, Mary Had a Little Lamb’s author was one of the phenomenal forces in this campaign of getting ‘Thanksgiving’ the status of a national holiday.
George W. Bush, in the year 2007, had pardoned two turkeys, Flower and May. This tradition of granting a pardon to a turkey was commenced by Abraham Lincoln who, in 1947, pardoned his son’s turkey. Though only an informal practice, it has been persistent ever since.
The first Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1578 when Martin Frobisher hosted a feast for his safe arrival in Newfoundland. Canadian Thanksgiving, ever since 1957, has been consistently celebrated on October’s second Monday after being celebrated on varied days.
It is also believed that the native Hawaiians had celebrated Makahiki - the longest thanksgiving across the whole world. It was celebrated from November till February for four months where during this time both war and work were strictly forbidden.
Virgin Islands celebrates two Thanksgiving one the national holiday and the other which is known as the Hurricane Thanksgiving Day which is celebrated on October 19 only if no hurricanes strike the territory. It is a symbol of thanks that the islanders give for being spared by the dreadful hurricanes in that year.
Several traditional Thanksgiving meals exist in US, the main being the Turkey because of which Thanksgiving Day is also known as the Turkey Day. Mashed potatoes, Sweet Corn, Stuffing, Sweet potatoes, Fall Vegetables, Cranberry sauce and Pumpkin Pie constitute other traditional food items. All of the foods mentioned were introduced as a source of food to the Europeans for the first time when they had arrived.
Thanksgiving today is an amalgamation of several traditions ranging from ancient harvest festivals to New England’s and England’s traditional harvest festivals to the New England’s Puritan Thanksgiving and also the changing ideological and political assumptions of Native Americans.
Last Updated: 19th November, 2018