American Indians and English pilgrims held the very first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony in 1621; today people celebrate this day with family, feasting, and prayer.
Here are some facts you may not know:
- The journey – The people we now call Pilgrims were Separatists—that is, Puritans who had separated from the Church of England. The group left England in the Speedwell and a larger ship, the The Speedwell proved unseaworthy, and the fleet returned to England twice. The Mayflower set sail, and finally, in December 1620, the Plymouth Colony was founded by English Pilgrims at the site of a deserted Wampanoag Indian village called Patuxet.
- The first meal– The very first English settlers who came to America had a hard time during their first year and many of them died during the winter. But in the spring of 1621, a Patuxet Indian named Tisquantum—called Squanto by the English—showed them how to plant traditional Native American crops of corn and pumpkin in addition to their European peas, wheat, and barley.
- Three-day festival – In early autumn of 1621, the governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, organized a festival to give thanks to God for the survival of the colony and for their first harvest. Tradition holds that the colonists invited Massasoit, the Wampanoag chief, although some versions of the story claim he came to negotiate a new land treaty. He arrived with about 90 of his people and contributed five deer to the feast. Foods served probably included duck and turkey; a corn porridge called nasaump;and a pumpkin dish called
- Thanksgiving dates – During the American Revolution, the Americans observed eight special days of thanks for victories and for being saved from dangers. In 1789, President George Washington issued a general proclamation naming November 26 a national day of Thanksgiving.
- State by state – For many years the United States had no regular national Thanksgiving Day. But some states had a yearly Thanksgiving holiday. By 1830, New York had an official state Thanksgiving Day, and other Northern states soon followed its example. In 1855, Virginia became the nation’s first Southern state to adopt the custom.
- Thanksgiving Thursdays – Sarah Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, worked many years to promote the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day. Then President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November 1863, as a “day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” Each year afterward, the president formally proclaimed that Thanksgiving Day should be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.
- A federal holiday – In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set Thanksgiving one week earlier to help businesses by lengthening the shopping period before Christmas. After this incident, in 1941, Congress ruled that the fourth Thursday of November would be observed as Thanksgiving Day and would be a legal federal holiday.
- Gobble! – Most traditional Thanksgiving dinners include turkey. Male turkeys are called toms, female turkeys are known as hens, and baby turkeys are called poults. American Indians raised turkeys for food as early as A.D. 1000!
- Around the world – Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October. Europeans have also held autumn harvest festivals and feasts for centuries.
- Festivals like Thanksgiving – For thousands of years, people in many parts of the world have held harvest festivals. The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is a celebration of the end of the rice harvest; this usually occurs in August or September.
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