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.

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