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The History of Thanksgiving

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Don't cry fowl, but the first Thanksgiving was not celebrated by the Pilgrims. In fact, Thanksgiving Day has been celebrated in one way or another throughout history by cultures around the world. Today, Americans of all religions and ethnicities take the fourth Thursday of November to appreciate all that we have to be thankful for. So, let's cut through all the turkey, and tell you the real story:

Animist tribes believed that plants and animals had spirits which were angered by the harvest. To appease these spirits, tribes would make offerings which often included elaborate festivals. These ceremonies provided the foundation for today's Thanksgiving Day holiday.

In addition, the ancient Greeks, Romans and Hebrews all performed their own festivals to celebrate bountiful harvests. The Greeks honored their goddess of grains, Demeter, during the autumn festival of Thesmosphoria. The Romans made annual offerings to Ceres, the goddess of corn. The Jewish people have been celebrating Sukkoth, the harvest festival, for over 2,000 years.

The American tradition began in 1621 when Massachusetts Bay Governor William Bradford proclaimed a feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest. The colonists had suffered severe hardships during their first year in the New World, and the successful harvest provided hope that things were improving. According to several documented accounts of this feast, the colonists shared corn, fruits, vegetables and fish with friendly native American tribes who in turn provided fresh venison.

Stop! Hold the cranberry sauce! Although this autumnal feast has served as the foundation for later Thanksgiving Day celebrations, the Pilgrims neither called it "Thanksgiving," nor did they repeat the ceremony in future years. In fact, a day of "thanksgiving" would have been spent fasting and praying by these devoutly religious peoples.

So when did the holiday start? Actually, there were various Thanksgiving Day celebrations throughout the early years of colonial USA and Canada. It was George Washington who first declared that all the members of the new Union should celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day, Thursday, November 26, 1789. But, not surprisingly, it was Abraham Lincoln who first declared Thanksgiving as a US national holiday in 1863. America's neighbors, the Canadians, celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October.

For many Native American Indians of present day, the traditional "Thanksgiving" holiday is not recognized as the Pilgrim/Indian day popularized in children's history books; rather it is a day of sorrow and shame. Sorrow for the fallen lives of those who were lost so long ago, and shame for living in a country who honors people who used religion and self-righteousness to condone murder, treachery and slavery.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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