Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday celebrated in the United States, but have you ever wondered when did Thanksgiving start? In this article, we will dive into the fascinating history of Thanksgiving and explore its ancient origins. From the first Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth to the evolution of the holiday into a national celebration, we will uncover the rich traditions, controversies, and delicious food associated with this special day. So grab a cup of hot cider and get ready to embark on a journey through time to discover when Thanksgiving truly began.
When Did Thanksgiving Start? Thanksgiving at Plymouth
The story of Thanksgiving begins in September 1620 when a small ship called the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England. On board were 102 passengers, including religious separatists and individuals seeking new opportunities in the “New World.” After a treacherous journey lasting 66 days, the Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination.
The harsh winter took a toll on the colonists, with many suffering from exposure, scurvy, and contagious diseases. Only half of the original passengers and crew survived to see the spring. In March, the settlers moved ashore and received an unexpected visit from a member of the Abenaki tribe who spoke English. This encounter led to an alliance with the Pawtuxet tribe and their member Squanto, who became instrumental in teaching the Pilgrims survival skills, such as farming and fishing.
In November 1621, after a successful corn harvest, Governor William Bradford organized a feast to celebrate and invited the local Wampanoag tribe, including their chief Massasoit. Although the Pilgrims didn’t use the term “Thanksgiving” at the time, this event is now considered America’s “first Thanksgiving.” While the exact menu remains unknown, historical records suggest that the meal likely consisted of venison, seafood, and crops grown by the Pilgrims. This three-day celebration marked the beginning of a remarkable alliance between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.
Thanksgiving Becomes a National Holiday
For over two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. However, it wasn’t until 1863, during the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be observed annually in November. This proclamation aimed to unite a divided nation and express gratitude for the country’s blessings despite the ongoing conflict.
The idea of a national Thanksgiving Day originated from the tireless efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, an influential writer and editor. Hale campaigned for 36 years to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday, writing numerous editorials and letters to governors and presidents. Her persistence paid off when President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a day of thanks, a tradition that continues to this day.
Thanksgiving Food: A Feast to Remember
No Thanksgiving celebration is complete without a bountiful feast that brings family and friends together. Turkey has become the quintessential centerpiece of the holiday table, with nearly 90% of Americans enjoying this succulent bird on Thanksgiving day. Other traditional dishes include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.
While turkey may be synonymous with Thanksgiving, it wasn’t necessarily part of the Pilgrims’ inaugural feast. Historical records indicate that the Wampanoag tribe brought venison, and the Pilgrims likely served local seafood and crops like corn. The absence of desserts like pies and cakes can be attributed to the limited resources and lack of sugar during that time.
Over the years, Thanksgiving menus have evolved to accommodate the changing tastes and culinary traditions of different regions. Families now add their own unique twists to classic dishes, incorporating flavors and ingredients that reflect their cultural heritage. However, the spirit of gratitude and togetherness remains at the heart of every Thanksgiving meal.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: A Time-Honored Tradition
One of the most iconic events associated with Thanksgiving is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This beloved tradition began in 1924 when Macy’s department store organized a “Big Christmas Parade” to celebrate the expansion of its Herald Square superstore. The parade featured marching bands, performers, and floats conveying various celebrities. However, it wasn’t until 1927 that the first giant balloons made their appearance, adding an enchanting element to the festivities.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has grown into a grand spectacle, attracting millions of spectators along its 2.5-mile route and captivating a massive television audience. It has become a tradition for families to gather around their TVs on Thanksgiving morning, eagerly awaiting the sight of their favorite characters brought to life as enormous balloons floating through the streets of New York City.
Thanksgiving Controversies: Unveiling the True History
While Thanksgiving is widely celebrated as a time of gratitude and harmony, it is not without its controversies. Many Native Americans and others argue that the traditional narrative of Thanksgiving overlooks the long and tumultuous history of conflict between European settlers and Native American tribes. They believe that the holiday masks the oppression and bloodshed that occurred during the colonization of America.
To shed light on this perspective, events like the National Day of Mourning have been held on Thanksgiving to honor the Native American experience and raise awareness about the true history behind the holiday. These events remind us of the importance of understanding and acknowledging the complex and often painful realities of our shared past.
Thanksgiving’s Ancient Origins: A Global Tradition
While the American concept of Thanksgiving developed in the New England colonies, the idea of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest is not unique to the United States. Many cultures throughout history have celebrated similar festivals of gratitude and abundance.
In ancient times, civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans held feasts and paid tribute to their gods after the fall harvest. The Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot also bears resemblance to Thanksgiving, as it involves giving thanks for the harvest and dwelling in temporary shelters.
Native Americans had a rich tradition of celebrating the fall harvest even before the arrival of Europeans. These festivities included feasting, dancing, and expressing gratitude to the earth for its abundance. The Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving in Plymouth was influenced by the Native American tradition of giving thanks for a successful harvest.
Thanksgiving is a holiday deeply rooted in history and tradition. From its humble beginnings in Plymouth to its transformation into a national celebration, Thanksgiving has evolved over time but has always remained a time for expressing gratitude and coming together with loved ones.
As we gather around our tables each year, let us remember ‘When Did Thanksgiving Start?’, honoring the contributions of Native Americans and reflecting on the complex narratives that shape our understanding of this cherished holiday. May we continue to celebrate with open hearts, mindful of the past and hopeful for a future of unity and gratitude.
So, as you prepare for your next Thanksgiving feast, take a moment to appreciate the rich heritage and diverse stories that have shaped this beloved holiday. And above all, may the spirit of Thanksgiving inspire us to cultivate an attitude of gratitude throughout the year. Happy Thanksgiving!