A Brief History of Thanksgiving



While most of us think of Thanksgiving as a time to visit family and friends and eat delicious food, there is much more to the holiday than turkey and stuffing! The following is a brief history of Thanksgiving, how the holiday started, and how we celebrate today.

The Mayflower and the pilgrims

What we today call the pilgrims were a group of 101 men, women, and children who chartered a ship called the Mayflower to bring them across the Atlantic Ocean and to the “new world”. The pilgrims were Protestant British separatists who wanted to break away from the Church of England and were in search of religious freedom. The landed at Plymouth Rock in December 1620 and founded the Plymouth Colony.

Help from the Wampanoag

Life was hard for the pilgrims as they struggled to adapt to the new world. Luckily, the local Wampanoag tribe - including the now famous Samoset and Squanto - began to help the Pilgrims learn to hunt, fish, and grow crops.

The Wampanoag taught the settlers how to plant corn, maize, pumpkins, beans, peas, and other crops using small fish as fertilizer. In addition, Squanto and Samoset helped the pilgrims learn how to hunt and fish for local animals.

The first Thanksgiving

With help from the Wampanoag, the pilgrims had a bountiful harvest in 1621. To celebrate, Governor William Bradford held a harvest festival during which the pilgrims and around 90 Wampanoag Indians ate deer, corn, duck, geese, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, squash, and pumpkin. While the exact date of the first Thanksgiving is not known, it is believed to have been in early October.

Common myths about Thanksgiving

The following are a number of common myths and misconceptions about Thanksgiving.

- The early settlers did not wear silver buckles on their shoes

- The English settlers at the first Thanksgiving did not call themselves pilgrims

- The settlers did not all just wear somber black; in fact, their clothing could be quite colorful!

- The celebration was not a single meal, but lasted for three days. It included dancing, singing, and games.

Thanksgiving today

Sarah Josepha Hale began lobbying for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday in 1827, but it was not until 1863 that President Lincoln formally acknowledged the last Thursday in November as the holiday. President Franklin D Roosevelt changed the holiday to the fourth Thursday in November in 1939 and it has been celebrated annually on this date since.