Thanksgiving: Celebrating from Plymouth to Parades


“A day of thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the man and signal favour of Almighty God.”
George Washington, 1789
, proclaiming the first nationwide Thanksgiving in America

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 22: Smell that roasting turkey, whip the potatoes and gather ‘round the table: it’s Thanksgiving!

For no other occasion do more Americans travel home—as more than 10 million take to the skies and 40 million drive more than 100 miles for a slice of nostalgic pumpkin pie. Whether you give thanks today for the NFL games, the blessings of life or that tantalizing piece of turkey, do so with the knowledge that it’s a long-standing tradition. From Native Americans to the Puritans and Europeans, all had reason—and a unique way—to celebrate at harvest time.

NOTE: This week also is the focus of Native American Heritage Month and Day (the “Day” is November 23 this year).


The famed feast that started it all took place in 1621, when Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an impressive feast. (Learn more from the Get interactive at

After a year of sickness and scarce food, a bountiful harvest promised a better year to come. It is likely that these “first” Thanksgiving diners feasted on turkey (and venison), but aside from that, little is settled among historians. In fact, several sites claim to have hosted the “first official” Thanksgiving, and historical documents support each claim. (Wikipedia has details.)

Still, it’s known that George Washington declared a national Thanksgiving in 1789, as did his immediate successors; after the “falling out” of the holiday by 1815, it once again was popularized by women’s magazine editor Sarah Hale. Hale campaigned to several presidents, finally convincing President Lincoln that a national Thanksgiving holiday would reunite a war-torn country. Congress permanently established the holiday in 1941. (Kids can learn more at Scholastic and National Geographic; create crafts and more at Kaboose.)


In 1530s England, Church holidays were becoming overwhelming—the calendar held 95 holidays and 52 Sundays of obligation—and despite reforms, a group known as Puritans eliminated all holidays except a few days of fasting and thanksgiving. These Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving also were brought to New England, thus leading to confusion over the “first Thanksgiving.” A religious service was planned by Governor Bradford for the feast of 1623, and by the 1660s, an annual harvest festival had become New England tradition.


Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without a parade, of course! Cook those courses while tuning in to the 86th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (9 a.m.-12p.m. on NBC), or to America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit. (“Get ready” with an article from Newsday.) Even after the destruction of Hurricane Sandy in New York this year, Macy’s Parade will march on through with 900 clowns, hundreds of performers, balloons and marching bands and, of course, Santa Claus. What’s more, Macy’s will be donating 5,000 parade tickets to Hurricane Sandy victims. Highlights of Macy’s Parade this year include a new Elf on the Shelf float, a performance by Mannheim Steamroller and a sneak preview of Broadway’s Cinderella-to-be. (Read more at NY Daily News.) The Broadway portrayal of “Cinderella” will debut Jan. 24.

Want to enjoy a romantic movie about Thanksgiving Day parades? Check out our review of Hallmark Channel holiday movies, including one called Love at the Thanksgiving Day Parade.


Classic Thanksgiving menus still list items that would have been found in New England: pumpkins, root vegetables, cranberries and wild turkey. Regional customs have changed that menu, so diners in New Mexico can enjoy chiles in their seasonings while East Coast cooks can toss crab into their stuffing. Try a new recipe for your table with help from Taste of Home, AllRecipes or Food Network. Create a beautiful table with help from HGTV and Martha Stewart.


INCOMING TURKEYS! Of all live turkeys imported to the U.S., 99.8 percent are from Canada

LINCOLN (AGAIN) President Lincoln was encouraged to reinstate Thanksgiving at the urging of women’s magazine editor Sarah Hale. (Enjoy all of our ReadTheSpirit stories on Lincoln this week.)

TWO TRADITIONS Today’s Thanksgiving is a combination of two traditions: the New England custom of rejoicing after a harvest; and the pious Puritan observance of gratitude

ANCIENT FOODS Pumpkin is one of the world’s oldest foods. Pumpkin seeds have been found in archaeological digs of communities in Mexico dating back more than 8,000 years.

    Enjoy all of our ReadTheSpirit Thanksgiving-themed stories, this week!

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email