Evoke the sentiment of Thanksgiving; think about family gatherings around a bountiful dinner table, harvest festivals, and pilgrims. But the tale of this beloved American holiday is far richer and more layered than our nostalgic motions suggest. This article unravels the chronicles of Thanksgiving, from its deeply rooted inception to its contemporary practices.
A Foundation on Plymouth Rock: Origin Story of Thanksgiving
The Thanksgiving narrative finds its roots in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Pilgrims had sailed from England on the Mayflower seeking the freedom to practice their religion without hindrance. Facing a brutal first winter on foreign shores, half of them passed away. But with help from members of the local Wampanoag tribe, they learned to hunt, fish, and grow crops in the New World, leading to a bountiful harvest the following year. To celebrate their first successful corn harvest, the governor organized a three-day feast, inviting the tribe to participate. It wasn't called 'Thanksgiving' at the time, rather, it was a humble gathering of different cultures appreciating a successful harvest together.
Evolution of Thanksgiving: From Harvest Feast to National Holiday
The 1621 feast was not an annual tradition immediately. The initial years observed Thanksgiving as a somber, religious occasion rather than a feast. The transformation really began during the American Revolution when Continental Congress proclaimed days of 'thanksgiving' in response to victories in battle. It was President Abraham Lincoln, during the throes of the Civil War, who finally declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863. His proclamation, written by Secretary of State William Seward, commanded all Americans to ask God to 'commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife' and to 'heal the wounds of the nation.'
Thanksgiving Traditions: A Symphony of Food, Parades, and Football
Over the subsequent years, Thanksgiving has diffused into multiple cultural layers. Turkey became the iconic centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table, although historians are unsure if it was part of the original 1621 feast. Parades became a part of the tradition too. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a staple since 1924, drawing millions of viewers each year to New York City's streets and television's screens. Football also became linked to Thanksgiving with The Detroit Lions playing a game on this day since 1934.
Modern Day Celebrations: Thanksgiving in the 21st Century
In today's time, Thanksgiving is commonly a day where families and friends gather for a feast, typically consisting of roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, pumpkin pie, and more. The day is heralded with charity events like food drives and volunteering at soup kitchens, observing the day as a solicitation to share, care, and demonstrate gratitude. Some people also take part in 'turkey trots,' fun runs, and races held in cities across the United States. The holiday also marks a four-day weekend for many, kicking off a season of shopping with 'Black Friday' and the commencement of Christmas preparations.