Today, the fourth Thursday of November marks Thanksgiving. So, Happy Thanksgiving Day! Although, in the UK, Thanksgiving isn’t as widely celebrated because it is a US and Canadian holiday. It is said that more people in the US celebrate Thanksgiving than Christmas because it is a non-religious holiday in a country founded on the separation of the state and the church.
So, what is the history of Thanksgiving?
In 1621, the Mayflower settlers from Plymouth and Native American people known as Wampanoag Indians shared a harvest feast in the autumn to celebrate their first corn harvest after a difficult journey and year. It included 50 settlers and 90 Wampanoag Indians and lasted three days. This was the first Thanksgiving celebration in the American colonies and after this, individual colonies and states celebrated days of thanksgiving for more than two centuries. Then, in the midst of the civil war in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared it a national day of thanksgiving to be held every November.
In many households across America, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original significance. Now, it involves sharing a glorious feast with family and friends, centred around cooking a turkey. The turkey is now a staple of the Thanksgiving menu, with more than 90% of Americans serving up the dish, as it is indigenous to North America. Other traditional dishes include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
Volunteering is very popular on Thanksgiving Day, with communities supporting food donations and many host dinners for free for those less fortunate.
Thanksgiving Day Traditions
The Thanksgiving Day Parades are also extremely popular across America, and the most popular is the New York Parade sponsored by Macy’s department store. This parade first began in 1924 and now attracts around 3 million spectators along the 2.5-mile route.
The president of the United States is presented with a turkey each year, which he has ‘pardoned’ since 1947. This spares the turkey from slaughter and the president send them off for their retirement to a farm!
What about Canada?
Canada has its own Thanksgiving tradition, which it celebrates on the second Monday of October. It originated in 1578 when the pirate-explorer Martin Frobisher gave thanks for safe passage across the Atlantic once he arrived on the East coast of Canada, which is now Nova Scotia. It became an official holiday in the 19th Century and Canadians also give thanks and joke with each other about not being American; part of an ongoing friendly-rivalry between the two nations!
Fun Facts about Thanksgiving
- Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’, wrote letters to President Lincoln for 17 years to convince him to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her letters finally succeeded in 1863.
- The first Thanksgiving meal was eaten only with spoons and knives. Forks weren’t introduced to the settlers until 10 years after the first meal and they still did not become a popular utensil until the 18th century.
- President Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird, not the eagle.
- Americans eat 46 million turkeys each Thanksgiving.
So, go and find someone, one person, and share even just one fact about the history of Thanksgiving Day. We may not be the US and we may not have the same traditions, but it is a day of Thanksgiving after all, so find something to be thankful for, no matter how small!