The History of Thanksgiving - Delphi Boston Delphi Boston

The History of Thanksgiving


Modern day Thanksgiving is celebrated with a large turkey meal surrounded by friends and family. It’s not about giving or receiving gifts, but about enjoying time with your loved ones. Pies and cakes were not traditionally on the menu but have become a hallmark statement.


Thanksgiving becomes an Official Holiday

November of 1621 has been declared the United States first unofficial Thanksgiving celebration. The Plymouth colonists, who survived the rough winter and trip away from London, and the Wampanoag Indians shared a harvest feast. For more than two centuries, colonies continued to celebrate Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

The Pilgrims’ first corn harvest was proved successful so Governor William Bradford organized a feast to celebrate and invited their Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. While the exact menu for the celebration isn’t known, it’s said that lobster, seal and swan were a part of the meal! Old journal entries show that a large “fowling” mission was executed in preparation for the event and the Wampanoag guests brought 5 deer. The friendship with the Wampanoag tribe, which endured for more than 50 years, tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.

The next year, 1623, the Pilgrims celebrated their second Thanksgiving harvest to mark the end of the drought that had threatened their last years harvest. It prompted Governor Bradford to mark it as a religious holiday. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis became common practice in other New England settlements as well.

In 1863 at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, spoke to all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.


Thanksgiving Controversies

It is debated whether or not  the Plymouth Thanksgiving was truly the first celebrated in the United States history. There have been other ceremonies recorded that focused on giving thanks for safe arrival or giving thanks to their almighty.

The sunny version of the Thanksgiving story is frequently discussed, especially around the holiday. Many believe that the story of the Pilgrims and Native American tribe feasting together misrepresent all the blood shedding that occurred as the Europeans moved further and further west, killing millions. Since 1970, protesters have gathered on the day designated as Thanksgiving at the top of Cole’s Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, to commemorate a “National Day of Mourning.” Similar events are held in other parts of the country.

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