The American Thanksgiving

Our 149th Thanksgiving in the U.S. For our readers outside the U.S., here’s a brief history of the American Thanksgiving: 

  • Photography: Tatiana Grozetskaya/Shutterstock
  • The first Thanksgiving on American soil goes back to the first Pilgrims and their second year, 1621, at the settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. Less than half of the original group survived, and if it hadn’t been for the help of the local native Americans, the remaining settlers may not have made it either.

  • Thanksgiving with a Scandinavian twist—served with the omnipresent lingonberries
  • In the spring, the tribes taught the Pilgrims how to tap the maple trees for sap, which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers, and how to plant and fertilize the Indian corn.

  • The next October harvest was very successful, and the Pilgrims found themselves with enough food to put away for the winter. There was corn, fruits and vegetables, fish to be salted, meat to be cured over smoky fires. The Pilgrims had beaten the odds, and it was time to celebrate.

  • The Pilgrim Governor William Bradford proclaimed a celebration to be shared by the colonists and neighboring native Americans. This first celebration lasted for three days. Everyone played games, ran races, marched and played drums. According to many historians, though, this event was not viewed at the time as “Thanksgiving;” that first occurred in 1623, and it was a religious observance rather than a feast.

  • The custom of an annual Thanksgiving continued through the years. In the late 1770s, a day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress. In 1817, New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom, and many other states followed suit through the 1800s.

  • Thanksgiving didn’t become a formal national holiday until 1863, however, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. Since then, each U.S. president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday.

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