When you think of Thanksgiving, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? It is the all-American festivity in autumn where everything is decorated with orange hues fallen leaves and giant turkeys wearing a hat?
Or do you imagine the typical scene of every holiday special show or movie with the family reunion, the drama and funny stories along with a big table with the sights of sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, bread rolls, and the famous pair: The big roasted turkey and the sweet pumpkin pie? Sounds nice, right? But, what if we tell you that this scene wasn’t always the reality?
Buckle up, it’s history time.
As all stories go, the history of thanksgiving started with a journey. It was the year 1620 and the first settlers from England had just arrived at a place that is now known as Plymouth, in the USA. Even when the land was plenty with native fruits, nuts, deer, game birds, and fish, no one knew how to hunt or fish or how to prepare and eat all of this.
But, how did they survive? Easy, they weren’t the “first” in that land, the Wampanoag tribe had been living in those lands centuries before the arrival of the Mayflower and were key to their survival. It is said that their leader “Massasoit” met with the colonist several times to set how each group could learn and leave with each other.
This led to the famous gathering of 1621 in which Massasoit and the tribe were invited to celebrate a great harvest, of course, thanks to the teachings of the tribe. Everyone participated and helped with the preparation of the food, but according to historians, this was not similar to the modern-day feast of Thanksgiving, no, there wasn’t turkey nor cranberry sauce neither mashed potatoes.
No, this was most likely to be a feast of eels, oysters, wild onions and leeks, nuts, berries, squash, wine, and cornmeal. It is sad to think that all this peace would come to an end in less than 60 years. Fortunately, this started some sort of holiday that survived in the New England territory for 200 years.
But, why do we celebrate this?
Well… we have to give thanks to Sarah Hale, editor of the Boston Ladies’ Magazine in 1860 for that. She proposed an annual day set aside for the people to reflect on their heritage and give thanks for their fortune.
For more than 17 years she wrote to five presidents to petition this feast to be observed as a national holiday and finally in 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be a national holiday in commemoration of this feast of unity and gratitude.
However, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression was met with such great opposition that in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.
In modern-day American households, thanksgiving has lost a big part of the religious tone, changing to a holiday centered on cooking and sharing a meal with family and friends. Also, it is as common as the football games and the parades (like the Macy’s parade in NYC) volunteering is a common activity and communities and churches often have host free dinners for the less fortunate.
Did you know?
A little of trivia, the U.S. isn’t the only country that celebrates Thanksgiving: Canada celebrates it the second Monday of October, and it shares many traditions such as the turkey dinner and the football matches. Another country that celebrates it is Germany, on the first Sunday of October, but the difference lays in that this version of thanksgiving focuses most on giving thanks for the harvest with processions of the produce to the church and with feasts of chicken and rooster.
Another place that celebrates thanksgiving is Norfolk Island, now an Australian territory, thanks to their American Consul Isaac Robinson in 1887, when he died at sea, the people carried on with the tradition. Although they celebrate it con the last Wednesday of November instead of Thursday, they decorate the church with tall stalks of corn, fruits, and vegetable and feast on an assortment of roast meat, banana dishes, and the typical American pumpkin pie.
Another final fact: since the mid-20th century and perhaps even earlier, the President of the United States has “pardoned” a Thanksgiving turkey each year, sparing the birds from slaughter and sending them to a farm for retirement. It is said that the first one to do that was JKF, but it was established as a tradition by George H. W. Bush.
Now that you know a little more about the origin of this holiday, you can start planning the decoration, menu, and activities to commemorate it with your loved ones. You can visit our store to find decorations and products with which you can decorate and give away on Thanksgiving.