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Why We Celebrate Thanksgiving: The History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Turkey

Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? When we think about Thanksgiving here in the United States, we think about family, friends, football and shopping. The modern Thanksgiving in centered around how much we can eat, and how much we can save by shopping.

Because of all the fuss about black Friday and food we may forget why we celebrate Thanksgiving in the first place.

The First Thanksgiving

The Building of Friendships

We celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, because of the great harvest during the year 1621. It was a time of struggle and celebration. The pilgrims had taken a huge risk, lives were lost, but many did survive. There was a lot to be thankful for.

The Pilgrims had a rough year the winter before, they had sailed over from England and found themselves in what is now Cape Cod, not New York like they had wanted. The winter was harsh in Cape Code, much worse then it would have been farther south. That winter they stayed on their ship and did not disembark until May of the next year.

When they did come off the ship they were greeted by a native that spoke English, the Pilgrims were surprised but formed a relationship with this native. Eventually this native returned with another native named Squanto. Squanto, had learned English because he had once been held captive by an English sea captain. He eventually escaped to London and was brought back to North America in an expedition party.

Squanto, taught the settlers to plant corn, harvest maple syrup from trees, fish and even how to avoid poisonous plants in the area. We have to remember these settlers had no idea what was in this new land. Having a guide that understood them and could and was willing to help them was probably the only reason they survived.

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The Thanksgiving Feast

Somewhere between September and November of 1621 the Governor, William Bradford decided to hold a feast to honor the harvest and the friendships formed with the natives. The celebration lasted three days and probably included Venison, fish and wild game. Most of these dishes were made with traditional native recipes as the Pilgrims didn’t have much in the way of spices. The meal most likely did not include pies, cakes or other sweets as the sugar supply was already used up by this time.

The Pilgrims invited the local natives and their new friends to join them for this celebration. The list of attendees includes the Wampanoag chief Massasoit and many of his men.

Why Do We Celebrate Thanksgiving the Fourth Thursday in November?

A day of thanks has always been celebrated in the United States. Many times it was a day declared by the president. George Washington declared the first thanksgiving celebration, but it was not a set day to be celebrated every year. Each president after Washington decided when this day of thanks would take place.

Over time many states adopted their own Thanksgiving holidays. These days were all different and and there was no set standard. Eventually after the Civil war Thanksgiving was declared an official United States holiday, though it was set to be celebrated the last Thursday in November. Thanksgiving was only created a national holiday because of Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote the nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb”. She had worked for many years to have Thanksgiving be a national holiday. Eventually Abraham Lincoln did declared that Thanksgiving be a national holiday, he did this to help heal the nation and bring us back together.

It wasn’t until the Great depression that Franklyn D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to help entice shoppers to spend money. His idea was not popular and eventually he signed a bill to make Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

How do you Celebrate Thanksgiving?

My family celebrates by getting together and eating of course. My brother in law watches football and the rest of us just enjoy spending time together.

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