Thanksgiving customs may be traced back to harvest celebrations, when Pilgrims from England and the Native Americans they met expressed gratitude for a great crop.
The first American Thanksgiving was a three-day harvest festival held in Plymouth ColonyPlymouth Colony (which is now part of Massachusetts) in 1621.
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According to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), “it is easy to grasp how essential the notion of giving gratitude is to Native world views by looking at the first Thanksgiving feast from the point of view of its Native attendees.”
The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, but they did not bring enough food with them. Because it was too late in the year to produce food, half of the colony perished during the winter of 1620-1621.
The neighbouring Wampanoag Indians taught the colonists how to cultivate maize and other vegetables in the spring of 1621, and they also showed the Pilgrims how to prepare corn, cranberries, and squash. They were also instructed on how to master
“When the English chose to build a colony there in the 1600s, the Wampanoag already had a thorough grasp of their surroundings,” the NMAI notes. They have a mutual connection with the environment around them.
According to the museum, “as excellent hunters, farmers, and fishers who shared their foods and methods, they helped the colonists live in a strange new area.”
The First Thanksgiving in America
To celebrate the season’s great harvest, the Pilgrims and surrounding Wampanoag Indians assembled in the autumn of 1621 for a feast of wild turkeys, duck, geese, fish and shellfish, maize, green vegetables, and dried fruits. Chief Massasoit and his Wampanoag tribe provided venison.
According to the National Museum of American Indians, “the first Thanksgiving was just the beginning of a long history of exchanges between American Indians and immigrants…the feast that is engrained in the American mind reflects much more than a simple harvest celebration.” It was a watershed moment in history.”
Following the first Thanksgiving, there was a long era of injustice and strife between Native Americans and Europeans. According to the US embassy website, many Native Americans see Thanksgiving as a “National Day of Mourning.”
According to the museum, “sharing agricultural expertise was one component of early American Indian attempts to coexist with Europeans.” As ties with immigrants evolved into conflicts for land and resources, the tribes’ attempts to cohabit were not always successful.”
How Did Thanksgiving Come to Be Considered a Holiday?
In September 1789, the first Federal Congress issued a resolution requesting former President George Washington to suggest a national day of thanksgiving.
According to the United States National Archives, this spurred Washington to issue a proclamation in October 1789 proclaiming November 26 as an official holiday of “sincere and humble thankfulness.”
Later that year, in 1863, former President Abraham Lincoln urged Americans to observe the final Thursday of November as “a day of Thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1870, according to legislation enacted by Congress.
Unlike other national holidays such as Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Independence Day, the president had the right to designate the official date of Thanksgiving at the time.
Except for Franklin D. Roosevelt, most presidents followed Lincoln’s example in establishing the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving.
In response to lobbying from the Retail Dry Goods Association, Roosevelt shifted Thanksgiving to the penultimate Thursday in November in 1939.
Since Thanksgiving fell on November 30, 1939, merchants were worried about the possible negative effect on sales from a shortened Christmas shopping period.
Dozens more states issued proclamations identical to Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving date proclamation, while others chose to preserve the holiday on the fourth Thursday of November.
After two years of separate states celebrating Thanksgiving on one of two days (the penultimate or last Thursday in November), Congress approved legislation in 1941 that formally established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November.