Thanksgiving: Recall Pilgrims and Wampanoag on America’s holiday

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Abraham Lincoln, October 1863, Proclamation for Thanksgiving

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 27: Savor the tantalizing smells and clasp your hands together in gratitude, for the holiday of (American) Thanksgiving. ReadTheSpirit has lots of Thanksgiving-related resources, sparked by last year’s 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of the first annual nationwide observance in 1863. Here is our extensive Resource Page on Lincoln and the Season of Gratitude.

You’ll find a Thanksgiving prayer in the words of Abraham Lincoln that you can use with family and friends, plus this year we have a news story from a town in Belfast, Maine, right along the Atlantic coast, where people are gathering for a potluck dinner to mark this “Season of Gratitude” and remember Lincoln’s original proclamation.


Of course, most Americans know that there were earlier Thanksgiving events down through the centuries. In 1621, Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans shared such a feast in Plymouth. Lincoln may be the founder of our annual holiday tradition, but that very early cross-cultural dinner in Plymouth still inspires millions of Americans.

That Thanksgiving celebration melded two very different cultures: the Wampanoag and the Europeans. For the Wampanoag, giving thanks for the Creator’s gifts was an established custom. A plentiful harvest was just one of several reasons for a Wampanoag ceremony of thanks. For European Pilgrims, English harvest festivals were about rejoicing, and after the bountiful harvest of 1621 and amicable relations between the Wampanoag and the Europeans, no one could deny the desire for a plentiful shared feast. (Find more historic details at Or, Wikipedia has more.) The “first” Thanksgiving took place over three days, and was attended by approximately 50 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

By the 1660s, an annual harvest festival was being held in New England. Often, church leaders proclaimed the Thanksgiving holiday. Later, public officials joined with religious leaders in declaring such holidays. The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving in 1777, and just over one decade later, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration, as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” (Visit for interactive resources.) National Thanksgiving proclamations were made by various presidents through the decades, falling in and out of favor until Sarah Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. Still, it wasn’t until 1941 that Thanksgiving was established permanently as the fourth Thursday of November.


Even families that rarely visit houses of worship muster a prayer over the Thanksgiving table. But how much do you know about Americans’ preferences in prayer? How often do we pray? What do we pray for? Religion news writer David Briggs has assembled a surprising quiz on Americans’ habits of prayer. We challenge you to take this little test! (No question. You will be surprised.)


The National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving Day since its creation. In 1924, Americans enjoyed the inauguration of both the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held annually in New York City—and “America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held in Detroit. To this day, both parades welcome tourists and locals alike and are widely televised. Several U.S. cities host a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, welcoming runners of all ages to burn off some calories in anticipation of the day’s feast.

Many foods common on the Thanksgiving table are native to North America and to the season, such as corn, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squashes and cranberries. Mealtime prayers and worship services are still common on this holiday of gratitude.

Recipes, décor and hosting tips: Find recipes, menus and more at Food Network, AllRecipes, Food & Wine and Epicurious. Of course, at ReadTheSpirit, we especially encourage you to explore Bobbie Lewis’s weekly columns at FeedTheSpirit. Scroll through Bobbie’s columns and you’ll find lots of yummy recipes (and inspiring stories).

Vegetarian guests? Please guests sans the turkey with menu suggestions from the New York Times, here and here.

Thanksgiving crafts: Adults can create DIY décor with help from HGTV, and kids can be entertained before the big dinner with craft suggestions from Parents, Parenting and Disney.


Hot off the press this Thanksgiving are headlines that Black Friday may soon be a permanent fixture in our American Season of Gratitude.

Why? Blame it on “the millennials.” They’re demanding more shopping hours on Thanksgiving Day, claim marketing analysts. (Read more in our full story on Black Friday.) Findings reveal that while Baby Boomers are happy to stay seated at the table, millennials are in a rush to wrap up the turkey for leftovers and hit retail stores. What these findings don’t take into consideration, however, is the tendency for millennials to enjoy shopping in general more than the Baby Boomer generation. (TIME has the story.) In addition, most millennials don’t yet own a home and are unlikely to be hosting on the holiday—something that may very well change in time.


Thanksgiving: Americans celebrate 150th ‘official’ feast for gratitude

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 28: Pass the turkey and give thanks for a global tradition, on the American holiday that is Thanksgiving.

This year’s holiday is historic in so many ways!

America’s 150th Thanksgiving: You’ll read more (below) about the long history of this festival, but this is, indeed, America’s sesquicentennial of our national Thanksgiving holiday. (In addition to this column, you’ll want to read our Lincoln Resource Page, which is packed with Thanksgiving-related columns and other materials.)

70th Anniversary of Norman Rockwell’s “Thanksgiving”: Most Americans refer to the painting with the holiday’s name, but the actual title was “Freedom from Want,” back in 1943, when Rockwell completed the nearly 4-foot-tall oil-on-canvas illustration that was reproduced on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. The painting was part of a series on The Four Freedoms, the famous phrase introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1941. When he broadcast that talk, the U.S. was at peace. By 1943, Rockwell’s paintings were a bittersweet reminder of the “freedoms” American forces were fighting to preserve in the heat of World War II.

Once-in-a-Lifetime convergence of “Thanksgivukkah”: One mathematician calculated that it will take another 70,000-plus years for Hanukkah and American Thanksgiving to converge again. You’ll enjoy FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis’s detailed look at Thanksgivukkah—including a delicious recipe for apple-cinnamon latkes! Then, for a more family-oriented perspective, don’t miss This Jewish Life-author Debra Darvick’s look at Thanksgivukkah 5774.

What’s more—remember that Thanksgiving circles the planet: Nearly every culture claims a harvest festival—everything from the German Erntedankfest, which includes Oktoberfest, and the Japanese Labor Thanksgiving Day, which takes place on November 23.


Long before European settlers arrived on the East Coast, the area that is now the United States was inhabited by several Native American tribes. The Wampanoag, in particular—the native people who shared the “first” American Thanksgiving with the colonists—had inhabited the East Coast region for more than 12,000 years! Familiar with the land and sea, the Wampanoag taught the Mayflower travelers how to fish, hunt and harvest on the land. The Plymouth Colony—a group of English Protestants, eager to break away from the Church of England—made a pact with the Wampanoag, that they would protect one another from other native tribal members. (Learn more from That “first” Thanksgiving feast occurred in 1621, with the English and the Wampanoag feasting on deer, corn, shellfish and other wild game. The first feast that likely included prayers of thanks for a good harvest occurred two years later, in 1623.

Did you know? The English Colonists didn’t call themselves ‘Pilgrims,’ nor did they wear black clothing. Rather, they donned bright clothing.


The practice of an annual harvest festival among the Colonists didn’t take root until the late 1660s, and proclamations were made by church leaders in the decades following. George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide “thanksgiving” celebration on November 26, 1789, “acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.” (Wikipedia has details.) Proclamations and celebrations were varied until the beginning of the 19th century, and in 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the first official national day of thanksgiving. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924, with floats, band and animals from the Central Park Zoo—a tradition that continues, at least in similarity, today. The date of Thanksgiving was changed to the fourth Thursday in November in 1941, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Find resources for kids at and National Geographic.)

Did you know? The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was organized by immigrant employees at Macy’s, in thanks for the opportunities they had found in America.

On a solemn note, the peace between the Wampanoag and the English settlers lasted only a generation. For many modern Wampanoag, Thanksgiving is a reminder of the betrayal and bloodshed suffered; on Thanksgiving, they gather at the statue of Massasoit in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to remember their ancestors.


Unsure of what to do with that intimidating, oversized turkey? Tired of Grandma’s pumpkin pie recipe? Have no fear!


A Thanksgiving story wouldn’t be complete without news on Black Friday—and this year, retail stores are in fierce competition at the opening of a season that is six days shorter than last year’s. In 2013, Thanksgiving falls at its latest possible date under the 1941 law. Best Buy is grabbing numerous headlines with its 6 p.m. Thanksgiving open time, a move that representatives say was pushed by millions of consumers left unhappy with last year’s midnight opening. (Check out the story in Minnesota’s Star Tribune.) A full two hours ahead of other major retailers opening at 8 p.m., such as Macy’s and Sears, Best Buy hopes to nab the earliest customers during the shopping frenzy—and in competition with online retailers.

The International Council of Shopping Centers recently revealed that approximately 13 percent of U.S. consumers plan to shop on Thanksgiving this year. Many retail employees report unhappiness with work schedules invading their family plans, particularly employees of Kmart, which will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and remain open for a marathon 41 hours. (Find the story at Nonetheless, as retailers bank on holiday sales to account for 20 to 40 percent of annual sales, every hour counts. (Think pushing up the date of Thanksgiving would help America? Weigh the pros and cons, with help from this humorous article from TIME.)

For those able to spend extended periods of time with family and friends, airlines are catering to the 25.1 million passengers expected over the 12-day Thanksgiving holiday period—a 1.5 percent increase in travelers from 2012. (USA Today and CNN reported.) Economists report that today’s airline ticket will, on average, cost less after inflation than it would have in 2000; airline investment has more than doubled since 2010, resulting in new planes, the installation of Wi-Fi and upgraded websites.

Turn northward and wish Canadians, ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’

MONDAY, OCTOBER 14: Canadian Thanksgiving memories go back many centuries—as do the stories more familiar to Americans. After surviving dire conditions on the Atlantic, expeditions in the late 1500s and early 1600s celebrated what amounted to a Thanksgiving. However, more recent celebrations literally hopped all over the calendar—landing as early as April before settling on the second Monday in October by national decree in 1957.

Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations mirror American customs—but, as our friends to the North would say: “Just less of it.” By that, they mean that there is Canadian football, but less than in the U.S. There is a special shopping day, but it’s a bit more low key.

Most Canadian families expect turkey, mashed potatoes and other autumn side dishes. But, as various Canadian columnists have been pointing out: Many Canadian families feast on other foods, these days. Check out this column by Gordon Campbell, Canada’s top official in the UK, writing about many of the innovative foods that may wind up as valuable Canadian exports.

In contrast to the politically stalled U.S., Canadian National Parks will be doing banner business today—many of them offering special holiday programs.

Planning to visit Canada? The Canadian government warns that border crossings will be slow, due to the increased holiday traffic.