A Thanksgiving History

A brief history of Thanksgiving

   We all know the story. The pilgrims arrived at Plymouth on the Mayflower and the natives there taught them how to farm. In exchange, they had a feast, stuffed themselves full of turkey and potatoes, and generally had a good time. The truth, however, went a little differently.

   The native Americans, first of all, had already been exposed to the English. A member of the tribe, Squanto, had been kidnaped by the English and sold before escaping to London and found his way across the ocean and back home. He was the one to mediate between the two and teach the pilgrims proper survival techniques, including farming and forming alliances with other tribes. 

   The first Thanksgiving did not include dessert because the sugar rations would have been low since the beginning of Autumn. The meal did, however, include delicacies such as lobster, seal, and swan. They even had access to maple syrup.

   The pilgrims first arrived in the Americas to escape the Church of England and seek religious freedom, so it isn’t any surprise that Thanksgiving started out as a religious event. It was never annual, only occurring to pray and give thanks after surviving threatening events, such as a drought or a war. 

   The holiday was more along the lines of a second Sabbath, or holy day, in the week. It was only after the 1700s that Thanksgiving became an annual occurrence.

   Thanksgiving wasn’t even a national holiday until 1863. Before then, each state celebrated it on different dates, and there could be multiple Thanksgivings in one year. 

   Then, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday on the final Thursday in November. This only happened because of a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale, most notably known as the author of the nursery rhyme, “Mary had a Little Lamb.” 

   Oddly enough, the day Thanksgiving was celebrated was changed to be a week earlier by president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939. This was to induce retail sales and extend the Christmas shopping season during the Great Depression. The change, however, was met with strong opposition and was promptly reversed the following year.

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