The History Of Thanksgiving (and why we eat turkey!)

Thanksgiving (USA) Origin And Background:

Thanksgiving Day is a holiday where we give thanks for everything we have. People are typically thankful for family, friends, life, and entertainment, among other necessities in our lives.

But what is the exact origin and history of Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving’s history extends to the 17th century.

Pilgrims eating on thanksgiving
On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the harvest that was shared between the pilgrims and the native tribes.

The first Thanksgiving was held in 1621, where both English colonists and the Wampanoag Native American Tribe shared a feast. Since then, people had a feast for over two centuries until the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln declared that Thanksgiving Day would occur every November during the Autumn.

Although the Wampanoag Native American tribe did share this feast, there is a lot of sadness surrounding Thanksgiving Day as in later years, many Native Americans were slaughtered.

Here is a brief timeline that tells about the origins, background, and history of Thanksgiving.

1621: The First Thanksgiving

On September 1620, the Mayflower ship departed from Plymouth, England, with 102 passengers.

These passengers had two ambitions. First, they wanted to move to a new place to worship God, practice, and share their faith. They also wanted to own and live on new land.

Mayflower arrives at Massachusett Bay.

After traveling for 66 days, the Mayflower crossed over to Massachusett Bay, where the Pilgrims settled. From there, they created a village. In addition to the Pilgrims already living in Massachusetts Bay, different tribes of Native Americans (the first native people to live in Massachusetts Bay) greeted the Pilgrims.

thanksgiving turkey
A turkey that is traditionally eaten on Thanksgiving

These Native American tribes include the Abenaki, Pawtuxet, and Wampanoag Tribe. Since the Pilgrims were suffering from malnutrition and illness, the chief of the Pawtuxet tribe taught them how to cultivate corn, extract sap from trees, catch fish, and avoid dangerous plants.

A feast for a successful harvest

When their first corn harvest was a success, the Pilgrims planned a feast with the native people to show how thankful they were. In November 1621, the first Thanksgiving was held, and it lasted for three days.

1623-1863: Thanksgiving Becomes A National Holiday

In 1623, the Pilgrims celebrated their second Thanksgiving. After that, it became common practice for the pilgrims and Native People to celebrate the harvest.

1789: After The American Revolution

In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation where he stated that Americans should celebrate to express their gratitude for the war’s outcome. 

Part of the celebrations included a Thanksgiving Feast or Thanksgiving Dinner to give a chance to gather with loved ones. Also, a Thanksgiving Day Parade was very common on Thanksgiving.

1817: New York is one of several states to establish Thanksgiving

A scrumptious Thanksgiving meal
A scrumptious Thanksgiving meal

One of many states that established Thanksgiving as a holiday is New York. Each state that established Thanksgiving as a holiday celebrated it on different days. The Southern part of the US was not aware of the holiday and therefore didn’t celebrate it.

1827: Sarah Josepha Hale

A magazine editor and writer of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” created a campaign to create Thanksgiving as a national holiday. It took about 36 years until Thanksgiving became an official national Thanksgiving holiday.

1863: Thanksgiving Becomes A National Holiday

Finally, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln accepted the request to make Thanksgiving a national holiday during the Civil War. Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday of November until President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week due to the effects of the Great Depression.

The date change was unpopular and didn’t last long until it moved to the 4th Thursday of November.

Why is Thanksgiving on a Thursday?

One thing that has stayed constant with Thanksgiving is that it has always been celebrated on a Thursday in modern times.

Thanksgiving Feast
A Thanksgiving day feast

There is no particular reason why a Thursday was chosen, and it is unlikely that the original Thanksgiving was on a Thursday. 

However, Thursday was likely chosen as it gave distance by a few days from the Sabbath (Sunday). Also, it was not uncommon for ministers to give a sermon on a Thursday.

Needless to say…Black Friday and Cyber Monday were not marked as shopping days until recently!

This is the timeline of the history of Thanksgiving and how it became a national holiday!

Thanksgiving in modern times

Since its establishment, Thanksgiving Day has become a national holiday in countries other than the US, including Canada, Brazil, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Liberia, Leiden, Norfolk Island, and Puerto Rico.

Each country has a Thanksgiving celebration on a different day.

However, typical food eaten during the holiday includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie instead of the original pilgrim tradition, where they ate lobster, seals, and swans.

Did the Pilgrims eat turkey on the first Thanksgiving?

It is doubtful that they ate turkey on the first Thanksgiving. It is written that they did enjoy fowl, but this is more likely ducks or geese.

thanksgiving dinner
Eating Thanksgiving Day dinner with the family.

Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

We eat turkey because, in a contemporary account, wild turkeys were mentioned as being by the river while the pilgrims ate.

Even if there is no connection between Thanksgiving and turkeys, it is an excellent opportunity to eat a bird that is big enough for the whole family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

List of Thanksgiving Dates:

When is Thanksgiving 2020?

Thursday 26th November 2020

When is Thanksgiving 2021?

Thursday 25th November 2021

When is Thanksgiving 2022?

Thursday 24th November 2022

When is Thanksgiving 2023?

Thursday 23rd November 2023

When is Thanksgiving 2024?

Thursday 28th November 2024

When is Thanksgiving 2025?

Thursday 27th November 2025

When is Thanksgiving 2026?

Thursday 26th November 2026

When is Thanksgiving 2027?

Thursday 25th November 2027

When is Thanksgiving 2028?

Thursday 23rd November 2028

When is Thanksgiving 2029?

Thursday 22nd November 2029

When is Thanksgiving 2030?

Thursday 28th November 2030


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