What Is Thanksgiving?

Featured Article, Food, Hometown Cooking, Seasonal
on November 15, 2012

Enjoying the fruits of the summer growing season with friends and loved ones is a cherished and meaningful experience. The tradition of Thanksgiving may have started long ago in a very different world, but the sentiment behind the fête is universal. If you are wondering, “What is Thanksgiving?”, learn about the origins of the celebration.

English settlers in the colonies. In 1620, many English citizens left their homeland and traveled across the ocean on a ship called the Mayflower. The aim of these 102 brave individuals was to colonize the new world for England and to experience the religious freedoms that were unavailable in Britain. The colonists intended on settling in Virginia but instead ended up stopping at Cape Cod and forming the Plymouth colony.

The colonists struggled in Plymouth. Weary from their long trip by ship, the settlers were weakened and strained. To add insult to injury, the colonists found their new homeland very challenging to manage. Housing issues, harsh weather, scarce food and other challenges pushed many to their limits. As many as half the colonists died from disease, exposure and lack of nutrition.

The astounding visitor. After making it to the first spring, warmth came back to the colony, and the remaining settlers had proved their intrepid nature. They relocated their settlement to the shoreline, and in March, the colonists received a shocking visit. The visitor was an Indian who spoke the King’s English. Due to this meeting, the Indian slave Squanto was charged with helping the colonists. He taught the settlers how to live in their new land. From fishing, raising corn, extracting maple syrup and learning what plants were poisonous, Squanto provided crucial knowledge and understanding to the grateful colonists.

When was the first Thanksgiving? History.com dates the very first Thanksgiving feast back in 1621. The Plymouth colonists and the local Wampanoag Indians, having learned from one another and experiencing success, all shared their harvest feasts together. This collection of more than a hundred colonists and Native Americans is considered the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies, the future United States of America.

The official Thanksgiving holiday. After the first Thanksgiving, the holiday was sporadically celebrated. For more than two centuries, days of giving thanks were celebrated in a non-uniform manner by the individual colonies and, after a time, the states. It wasn't until 1863, during the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln officially proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be a national holiday to be held each November.