Thanksgiving Day, celebrated in America, is a way of presenting thanks to the Lord for food collected from the harvest and problems that were resolved. It is commemorated as a holiday on the fourth Thursday of November every year in the United States of America, though different nations across the world observe their respective harvest festivals at different times of the year and with distinct names. Families and groups of people gathering together at a common place to enjoy the lavish traditional feasts prepared specifically for this occasion is the most revered highlight of Thanksgiving Day. The rich and large meal usually comprises of roasted turkey, stuffing, different types of potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy and maize, and other seasonal veggies. For the desserts, everyone gorges on the delectable pumpkin pie. However, the present Thanksgiving Day is not celebrated as the first thanksgiving was observed. Several other customs weren't practiced as they had not yet been in fashion at that time. Read on to know the history of Thanksgiving Day and how the festival has evolved over time.
The pilgrims who sailed to America were originally members of the English Separatist Church. Before setting their steps in America, they had first fled to Holland to escape religious persecution. Although in Holland, they enjoyed more religious tolerance, but they eventually became disillusioned with the Dutch style of leading life. In the hope of a better life, they took the help of a London stock company to move to America. Most of the people making this trip aboard the Mayflower were non-Separatists. Only about one-third of the original colonists were Separatists. They reached Plymouth in 1620 where they had to face the terrible chilly winters. About 46 of the original 102 pilgrims passed away by the next fall.
But fortune turned in their favor and the harvest of the next year was bumper. Hence, the remaining colonists decided to celebrate the produce with a feast, along with 91 Indians, who had helped the pilgrims survive their first year. It is believed that the pilgrims would not have made it through the year without the help of the natives. The feast was more of a traditional English harvest festival than a true "thanksgiving" observance, lasting for three days. Governor William Bradford sent "four men fowling" after the wild ducks and geese. However, it is still not certain that the wild turkey was part of their feast or not, but they did had venison, for sure. The term "turkey" was used by the pilgrims to mean any sort of wild fowl.
Another modern staple at almost every Thanksgiving table is the gorgeous pumpkin pie. But it is unlikely that the first feast included that treat. The supply of flour had been long diminished, so there was no bread or pastries of any kind. However, they did eat boiled pumpkin and produced a type of fried bread from their corn produce. Besides, milk, cider, potatoes, and butter were also not available, as they did not have any domestic cattle for dairy products and the newly-discovered potato was still considered by many Europeans to be poisonous. But the feast did boast of fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison, and plums. This "thanksgiving" feast was not repeated in the following year.
But in 1623, during a severe drought, the pilgrims gathered at a prayer service to offer prayers for onset of rain. When a long, steady rain followed the very next day, Governor Bradford proclaimed another day of Thanksgiving, again inviting their Indian friends. It wasn't until the June of 1676 that another day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed. On June 20, 1676, the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, held a meeting to determine how best to express gratitude for the good fortune that had seen their community securely established. Through unanimous voting, they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk, to proclaim June 29 as a day of thanksgiving. It is notable that this thanksgiving celebration probably did not include the Indians, as the celebration was meant partly to be in recognition of the colonists' recent victory over the "heathen natives".
The month of October in 1777 saw the union of all 13 colonies in a thanksgiving celebration, for the very first time. It also commemorated the patriotic victory over the British at Saratoga. But, it turned out to be only a one-time affair. George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789, although some people strongly opposed the thought. There was discord among the colonies, many feeling the hardships of a few pilgrims did not warrant a national holiday. And later, President Thomas Jefferson scoffed at the idea of having a day for thanksgiving. It was Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, whose efforts eventually led to what we recognize as Thanksgiving Day today. Hale scripted many editorials championing her cause in her Boston Ladies' Magazine, and later, in Godey's Lady's Book.
Finally, after a 40-year campaign of writing editorials and letters to governors and presidents, Hale's obsession became a reality when, in 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was declared by every president after Lincoln. The date was changed a couple of times, most recently by Franklin Roosevelt, who set it up one week to the next-to-last Thursday in order to create a longer Christmas shopping season. Public uproar against this decision caused the president to move Thanksgiving back to its original date two years later. And in 1941, Thanksgiving was finally sanctioned by Congress as a legal holiday, as the fourth Thursday in November.
Here we have traced back the origin of Thanksgiving and the story of how it came in its present form.