The Origins of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving_dinner_at_the_house_of_Earle_Landis_8d10757v We all know the story. 400 years ago in one of America’s first colonies, Plymouth, the Thanksgiving tradition began. It started with an unlikely alliance between the Pilgrims of the Mayflower and a Native American Pawtuxet tribe member called Squanto. Without the assistance of Squanto, the Pilgrims may not have survived the winter of 1621. Squanto taught the pilgrims how to survive in the foreign, unforgiving land they settled in -- how to cultivate corn, what plants to avoid, how to extract sap from trees. He also helped them secure an alliance with the nearby Wampanoag tribe -- an alliance that led to what is known as ‘the first Thanksgiving.’ The word ‘Thanksgiving’ is often synonymous with the Pilgrims and their alliance with the Native Americans, but its origins are actually far more ancient than that. Many cultures throughout history, including the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and many more, celebrated the success of the autumn harvest. Most of these celebrations included fasts, feasts, and celebrations during which people paid tribute to their gods, or god. Although the tradition of a Thanksgiving style holiday dates back millennia, November of 1621 started a uniquely American version of this tradition. However, the feast of that era is vastly different than what we know today. Among the dishes the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans dined on were deer, swans, and even seals.  This feast and celebration also lasted three days to commemorate the success of the autumn harvest and the extremely beneficial alliance with the Wampanoag.


The tradition of Thanksgiving continued on its own in America for 200 years before becoming an official holiday. It wasn’t until 1863, under Abraham Lincoln, that it became an official holiday. Lincoln placed Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Thanksgiving has continued to this day as a time for Americans to gather together and feast to celebrate success. However, due to changing times we no longer necessarily think of it as a celebration of a harvest. Most Americans consider it a time to reflect on life and appreciate what they have to be thankful for whilst dining on pies, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and, of course, turkey. In fact, according to the National Turkey Federation, almost 90% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving! So this year, grab a turkey, gather around your loved ones, and celebrate an ancient tradition of appreciation.    

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