THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23: Join the millions of Americans giving thanks and expressing gratitude over a savory feast, as family and friends gather for the historical and beloved holiday of Thanksgiving. This year, news sources are reporting the biggest Thanksgiving weekend travel volume in 12 years, while the actual cost of Thanksgiving dinner itself will go down (read more here.) The cultural instinct to gather, as a community, and give thanks before winter storms arrive has been a strong pull across the Northern Hemisphere, but the widely celebrated “first American Thanksgiving” took place in 1621 at Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts. 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.
THANKSGIVING: A HISTORY
That 1621 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. The “first” Thanksgiving took place over three days, and was attended by approximately 50 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.
Here’s a fun joke to share: If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims!
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.” 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.
PARADES & TURKEY TROTS
The National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving Day since its creation, and 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.