The History of Thanksgiving

Celebrated all across the United States on the third Thursday of November, Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday that’s been around for the past several centuries. If you’re not American or are unaware of the history of Thanksgiving, that’s perfectly okay. The meaning of the holiday has changed over the years, and not very many people know about the holiday’s history and original meaning.

The first Thanksgiving – the one that most Americans hear about in elementary school – happened in the 1620s between the newly-arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. It took place to celebrate the first harvest the Pilgrims lived through, with the help of the nearby Wampanoag tribe members – especially Squanto and the tribe’s leader, Massasoit. Little is known about what took place at this Thanksgiving since only 2 stories of the event were written. Even the date of when the feast took place is unknown.

Over the next century and a half, the holiday didn’t take place during a specific day of the year. During the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress gave the colonies several days to celebrate Thanksgiving as a national holiday. However, people celebrated these holidays in honor of the American victories against the British in the American Revolution and give thanks to the Christian God rather than to honor the original settlers and their traditions. Celebrating the holiday like this continued until 1863, when Lincoln made it a holiday celebrated every final Thursday of November. Lincoln’s presidential successors continued to celebrate the holiday around the same time every year. In the early 1940s, President Roosevelt and his Congress agreed to make Thanksgiving a federal holiday celebrated every 3rd Thursday of November, instead of the final Thursday. Ever since, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving at the same time each year.

During the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, many people celebrate by running canned food drives for soup kitchens and homeless shelters. People also help out in food shelters and the less fortunate. The food typically cooked for this holiday includes turkey, stuffing, potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pies, apple pies, and several other dishes. While not an overly religious holiday and celebrated by peoples of many faiths, people tend to thank their god(s) for a good life and for the ability to spend time with family for the holiday season. Holiday parades celebrating Thanksgiving run the morning of, and many people watch them while cooking dinner for later. And NFL football games play during that afternoon for people to watch while gathered with family and friends.

However, this holiday isn’t without its fair share of controversies. Native Americans state that it paints a rather sunny view of how the Pilgrims and other settlers treated the Native Americans. They also say that it glosses over the genocide of many tribes and the downsizing of lands belonging to Native Americans. Additionally, it’s rumored that quite a number of early settlers hosted Thanksgiving-style feasts after massacring innocent Native Americans, which only darkened the holiday and its history even further.

Despite that, people across America still love the holiday. However you view the holiday, we hope you have a great holiday season!



Briana Maddox View All →

As an recent college graduate who studied media studies and anthropology in college, Briana Maddox enjoys learning about different cultures, traditions, holidays, historical figures, experiences, and opinions. With a vested interest in sharing such learning experiences, Briana created Life & Anthropology in the hopes of helping other people gain a better understanding and working knowledge of such topics.

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