Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November. It has officially been an annual tradition since 1863, when during the Civil War; President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26. As a federal and popular holiday in the U.S., Thanksgiving is one of the major holidays of the year. Together with Christmas and the New Year, Thanksgiving is a part of the broader holiday season.


The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated to give thanks to God for guiding them safely to the New World. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, providing enough food for 13 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans. The feast consisted of fish (cod, eels, and bass) and shellfish (clams, lobster, and mussels), wild fowl (ducks, geese, swans, and turkey), venison, berries and fruit, vegetables (peas, pumpkin, beetroot and possibly, wild or cultivated onion), harvest grains (barley and wheat), and the Three Sisters: beans, dried Indian maize or corn, and squash. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.

 History

The first documented thanksgiving feasts in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards in the 16th century. Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which comprised about 8,000 acres (3,200 ha) on the north bank of the James River, near Herring Creek, in an area then known as Charles Cittie, about 20 miles (32 km) upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established on May 14, 1607.

The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “day of thanksgiving” to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodlief held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

During the Indian massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundreds were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.

After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantation, and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634, it became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, as Charles City County, one of the oldest in the United States, and is located along Virginia State Route 5, which runs parallel to the river’s northern borders past sites of many of the James River plantations between the colonial capital city of Williamsburg (now the site of Colonial Williamsburg) and the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia at Richmond.

Thanksgiving Observed By The Pilgrims At Plymouth

The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). The painting shows common misconceptions about the event that persist to modern times: Pilgrims did not wear such outfits, and the Wampanoag are dressed in the style of Plains Indians.

The modern Thanksgiving holiday traces its origins from a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the Plymouth settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. This was continued in later years, first as an impromptu religious observance, and later as a civil tradition.

Squanto, a Patuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them (Squanto had learned English while enslaved in Europe and during travels in England). Additionally the Wampanoag leader Massasoit had donated food stores to the fledgling colony during the first winter when supplies brought from England were insufficient. The Pilgrims set apart a day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance; harvest festivals existed in English and Wampanoag tradition alike. Several colonists gave personal accounts of the 1621 feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims, most of whom were Separatists, are not to be confused with Puritans who established their own Massachusetts Bay Colony nearby (current day Boston) in 1628 and had very different religious beliefs.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

U.S. tradition compares the holiday with a meal held in 1621 by the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is continued in modern times with the Thanksgiving dinner, traditionally featuring turkey, playing a central role in the celebration of Thanksgiving.

In the United States, certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. Firstly, baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as “Turkey Day”). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, various fall vegetables (mainly various kinds of squashes), and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. All of these are actually native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food source to the Europeans when they arrived. Turkey may be an exception. In his book Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick suggests that the Pilgrims might already have been familiar with turkey in England, even though the bird is native to the Americas. The Spaniards had brought domesticated turkeys back from Central America in the early 1600s, and the birds soon became popular fare all over Europe, including England, where turkey (as an alternative to the traditional goose) became a “fixture at English Christmases”.

The less fortunate are often provided with food at Thanksgiving time. Most communities have annual food drives that collect non-perishable packaged and canned foods, and corporations sponsor charitable distributions of staple foods and Thanksgiving dinners.

Giving Thanks

 Giving thanks to God before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner. (1942)

Thanksgiving was originally a religious observance for all the members of the community to give thanks to God for a common purpose. Historic reasons for community thanksgivings are: the 1541 thanksgiving mass after the expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado safely crossing the high plains of Texas and finding game, and the 1777 thanksgiving after the victory in the Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga. In his 1789 Proclamation, President Washington gave many noble reasons for a national Thanksgiving, including “for the civil and religious liberty”, for “useful knowledge”, and for God’s “kind care” and “His Providence”. The only presidents to inject a specifically Christian focus to their proclamation have been Grover Cleveland in 1896, and William McKinley in 1900. Several other presidents have cited the Judeo-Christian tradition. Gerald Ford’s 1975 declaration made no clear reference to any divinity.

The tradition of giving thanks to God is continued today in various forms. Various religious and spiritual organizations offer services and events on Thanksgiving themes the weekend before, the day of, or the weekend after Thanksgiving.

At home, it is a holiday tradition in many families to begin the Thanksgiving dinner by saying grace (a prayer before or after a meal). The custom is portrayed in the photograph “Family Holding Hands and Praying Before a Thanksgiving Meal”. Traditionally, grace was led by the hostess or host, though in later times it is usual for others to contribute.

Vacation And Travel

On Thanksgiving Day, families and friends usually gather for a large meal or dinner. Consequently, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Thanksgiving is a four-day or five-day weekend vacation for schools and colleges. Most business and government workers (78% in 2007) are given Thanksgiving and the day after as paid holidays. Thanksgiving Eve, the night before Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest nights of the year for bars and clubs, as many college students and others return to their hometowns to reunite with friends and family.

Parades

Since 1924, in New York City, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is held annually every Thanksgiving Day from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square, and televised nationally by NBC. The parade features parade floats with specific themes, scenes from Broadway plays, large balloons of cartoon characters and TV personalities, and high school marching bands. The float that traditionally ends the Macy’s Parade is the Santa Claus float, the arrival of which is an unofficial sign of the beginning of the Christmas season.

Also founded in 1924, America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit is one of the largest parades in the country. The parade runs from Midtown to Downtown Detroit and precedes the annual Detroit Lions Thanksgiving football game. The parade includes large balloons, marching bands, and various celebrity guests much like the Macy’s parade and is nationally televised on various affiliate stations. The Mayor of Detroit closes the parade by giving Santa Claus a key to the city.

There Are Thanksgiving Parades In Many Other Cities, Including:

    6abc IKEA Thanksgiving Day Parade (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Ameren Missouri Thanksgiving Day Parade[42] (St. Louis, Missouri)

America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Parade (Plymouth, Massachusetts)

Belk Carolinas’ Carrousel Parade (Charlotte, North Carolina)

FirstLight Federal Credit Union Sun Bowl Parade[43] (El Paso, Texas)

H-E-B Holiday Parade[44] (Houston, Texas)

McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade (Chicago, Illinois)

My Macy’s Holiday Parade (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Parada de los Cerros Thanksgiving Day Parade[45] (Fountain Hills, Arizona)

UBS Parade Spectacular[46] (Stamford, Connecticut) – held the Sunday before Thanksgiving so it doesn’t directly compete with the Macy’s parade 30 miles away.

Most of these parades are televised on a local station, and some have small, usually regional, syndication networks; most also carry the parades via Internet television on the TV stations’ websites.

Several other parades have a loose association with Thanksgiving, thanks to CBS’s now-discontinued All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage. Parades that were covered during this era were the Aloha Floral Parade held in Honolulu, Hawaii every September, the Toronto Santa Claus Parade in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the Opryland Aqua Parade (held from 1996 to 2001 by the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville); the Opryland parade was discontinued and replaced by a taped parade in Miami Beach, Florida in 2002. A Disneyland parade was also featured on CBS until Disney purchased rival ABC.

Posted in Holidays.

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