A Time to Give Thanks: The History and Meaning of Thanksgiving

November 24, 2022


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For many people, Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for what they have. But what is the history and meaning of this holiday?

Thanksgiving actually has a long and complicated history. The holiday we celebrate today is a mix of different traditions from different cultures.

In this blog post, we'll explore the history of Thanksgiving and what it means to different people today. One thing is for sure, though--this holiday is about more than just turkey and football!

The History of Thanksgiving and Its Meaning Today

Thanksgiving is a time-honored tradition in the United States, dating back to the early days of English colonization. The holiday has its roots in religious and cultural celebrations of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest, and over the centuries has evolved into a cherished national holiday.

The first recorded Thanksgiving in North America took place in 1619, when 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred in Virginia. The group's charter from the London Company dictated that they celebrate their safe arrival with a religious ceremony of thanksgiving.

In 1621, the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts held a thanksgiving feast to celebrate their first successful harvest. They were joined by members of the Wampanoag tribe, who had helped them through the previous winter by giving them food and supplies. This feast is often considered the "first Thanksgiving" in America.

Thanksgiving became an annual tradition in New England during the 1660s. It wasn't until the late 18th century that the holiday began to be celebrated nationwide. In 1789, George Washington issued a proclamation declaring November 26 as a day of Thanksgiving for the "many and signal favours of Almighty God."

Today, Thanksgiving is a day for family, food, and giving thanks for all the blessings in our lives. Whether you're gathered around the table with loved ones or watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, take a moment this holiday to reflect on all the things you're thankful for.

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Fixing the Celebration

In the United States, Thanksgiving has been celebrated on different dates throughout history. At first, the date of observance varied from state to state, but by the early 1800s, the final Thursday in November had become the most common date of celebration. This date eventually superseded the holiday of Evacuation Day, which commemorated the day the British left the United States after the Revolutionary War.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared that Thanksgiving should be observed on the final Thursday in November in order to celebrate the bounties that had fallen on the Union and to give thanks for military successes in the war. However, due to the Civil War, a nationwide Thanksgiving celebration was not realized until Reconstruction was completed in the 1870s.

Then, through a presidential proclamation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving to the next-to-last Thursday in November in 1939. He did this in an effort to boost the economy, considering that retailers at that time never promote Christmas shopping until after Thanksgiving.

It backfired though. The change created havoc on the holiday schedules of many people, schools, and businesses, and most Americans were not in favor of the change. Roosevelt eventually changed the date back to the fourth Thursday in November 1942.

Traditions and Observance

Thanksgiving is a day for Americans to give thanks and celebrate with family, friends, and loved ones. A traditional Thanksgiving meal usually includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Families may also attend church services and watch special sporting events together.

In recent years, a new tradition called Friendsgiving has emerged, where people gather with friends for a Thanksgiving meal separate from the family gathering. This is a great way to celebrate the holiday with a smaller group of people and enjoy a delicious meal together.

Whether you're celebrating with your family or friends this Thanksgiving, take a moment to be thankful for all the good in your life. From there, enjoy the food, fun, and festivities!

Interesting Thanksgiving Facts

This blog post wouldn't be complete without a rundown of the most interesting facts about Thanksgiving. Here are some of them:

  • It's hard to believe that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated almost 400 years ago! It all started in 1621 when the Pilgrims held a three-day harvest festival. This historic event included 50 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians. Can you imagine celebrating for three whole days?
  • Interestingly, historians believe that only five women were present at the first Thanksgiving. We can only imagine what those brave women went through back then.
  • Turkey wasn’t served at the first Thanksgiving feast, but there were plenty of other delicious meats and sides to choose from! Venison, duck, goose, oysters, lobster, eel, and fish -- you name it, they had it. Plus, all the fixings like pumpkins and cranberries. But sorry, no pumpkin pie or cranberry sauce back then!
  • In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday. This was thanks in large part to Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of "Mary Had A Little Lamb." Hale had been writing letters for 17 years advocating for Thanksgiving to be made a national holiday. Finally, her efforts paid off and Thanksgiving has been a cherished tradition ever since. So next time you're enjoying your turkey dinner with family and friends, remember to give thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale for making it all possible!
  • Did you know that the tradition of football on Thanksgiving began all the way back in 1876? That's right -- the first Thanksgiving football game was played between Yale and Princeton. And, in 1920, the first NFL games were played on Thanksgiving Day. Football has become such an integral part of the Thanksgiving Day tradition that it's hard to imagine the holiday without it. For many people, watching football is just as important as eating turkey and pumpkin pie.

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