A delicious turkey waiting to be eaten on Thanksgiving Day. PHOTO COURTESY OF TIM SACKTON
Thanksgiving is a time when families and friends gather around and give thanks for everything that happened in their lives over the past year, and for those that are there with them on this special day. There is usually a big feast that follows a football game or a parade. Many don’t really know what actually happened a long time ago.
Thanksgiving first took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. There was a feast between the Pilgrims, who were the English colonists, and the Wampanoag people. This feast began with the Pilgrims going out and hunting, possibly for turkeys, but most likely geese and ducks, because there were more of those animals in that location then there were turkeys. Before the Wampanoag people showed up, it was just the colonists. The colonists got a surprise a few days later when about 90 Wampanoag people showed up and caused some commotion. Miraculously, over a few days, both the colonists and the Wampanoag people were able to hold a conversation without any incidents.
The Wampanoag people brought along with them foods like fish, eel, shellfish, vegetables, stews, and even beer. When they had the feast, they would typically sit on the ground or on barrels and they put plates on their laps. There were not many buildings around at the time, so this is what they decided to do. The activities that they partook in were firing guns, drinking liquor, running races, and the Wampanoag people even tried to speak in broken English to the colonists. This type of event was very unusual, but because of it, there was a treaty that was sealed between the colonists and the Wampanoag people. This treaty lasted until King Philip’s War that happened from 1675 to 1676. This is when thousands of colonists and Native Americans lost their lives.
The colonists of New England were already accustomed to celebrating Thanksgiving regularly, because to them it was a day of prayer to thank God for all the blessings that happened, like the end of drought and military victory. Thanksgiving was proclaimed nationally by the United States Constitutional Congress upon the enactment of the Constitution. However, after the year 1798, the Congress left Thanksgiving up to all the states. It was not such a good idea, because some of the states did not like that the national government was getting involved with religious observance. The southerners were taking their time to warm up to the idea of New England’s custom. There were some that felt offended that the day was partially used for speeches and parades.
Thanksgiving finally became an official holiday, when then Northerners took over the federal government. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of a magazine that was popular back then, called Godey’s Lady’s Book, wanted to have a national Thanksgiving Day so it could promote unity. She gained the support of Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, Lincoln finally made a national day out of Thanksgiving, and it was to be celebrated on Thursday, Nov. 26. Thanksgiving was proclaimed by every president that followed Lincoln. The date chosen by these presidents was the last Thursday in the month of November. President Roosevelt tried to break this, stating that he wanted the nation to have a longer Christmas shopping season. He wanted this to happen so it could boost the economy, and so the shopping could start the day after Thanksgiving. A lot of the states didn’t like this idea, especially because he wanted Thanksgiving to be in the third week of November. After much consideration, Roosevelt decided on the fourth Thursday in November, which is not always the last Thursday, to be the official day for the holiday.
When the country started to have more urban areas, and families lived even farther apart, Thanksgiving was officially a time to gather and give thanks. It was no longer really about religiousness, it was more about all types of immigrants from every background, to be able to gather and participate in this tradition. There were football games that took place, the first ever Thanksgiving football game was between Yale and Princeton in 1876. Then in the late 1800s, parades started to take place. The first ever big parade for Thanksgiving started in Philadelphia, created by Gimbels department store in 1920. The parade consisted of 50 people, with Santa Claus making his grand appearance at the end of the parade. After that, in 1924 Macy’s parade in New York City continued Philadelphia’s tradition. The parade features huge balloons and Santa at the end as well. This holiday that started off with the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people now evolved into a holiday all about having intercultural peace, an opportunity for newcomers in America, and also the sacredness of family and home.