The History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving means family gatherings, football games and parades. For some, it’s centered around religion, where people show their gratitude for God. Others view it as a time to go home to their families to reunite and catch up on each other’s lives and simply enjoy the company that surrounds them. And several think of the food first — turkey, stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie are just few among the season’s favorites.

Thanksgiving is a widely celebrated holiday in both the United States and Canada, but few know the purpose of the original celebration and the history and hardships behind it.

The origins of Thanksgiving are debatable. Scholars trace the holiday back to many ceremonies of gratitude. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and the 38 Berkeley Hundred settlers both held dinner celebrations around November in 1565 and 1619, respectively.

Avilés invited the Timucua tribe to mass and then a meal to thank God for the safe trip to St. Augustine, Fla. The Berkeley Hundred settlers, according to, “read a proclamation designating the date as a ‘day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.’ ”

Thanksgiving, however, is most commonly believed to originate from the event held by the Plymouth colonists, more frequently referred to as the Pilgrims, and the Wampanoag Indians.

After a very brutal winter when more than half of the colonists died from diseases like scurvy, a miracle occurred in the form of a Patuxet tribe member, Squanto. He taught the Pilgrims a wide array of survival methods: how to grow corn, catch fish, avoid poisonous plants and extract sap.

In November of 1621, Governor William Bradford invited the Native Americans to a feast, now known as America’s first Thanksgiving.

After that ceremonial gathering, Thanksgiving was celebrated several more times. The Continental Congress designated 1-2 days a year during the Revolutionary War for Thanksgiving and New York became the first state to officially adopt it as a holiday.

In 1863, during the height of the Civil War, Thanksgiving became a national holiday under President Abraham Lincoln. He scheduled it to fall on the fourth Thursday of November annually.

The date was later changed to the third Thursday of the month by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an attempt to boost retail sales during the Great Depression. Traditions take precedent though, and when Roosevelt was met with passionate opposition, he signed a bill in 1941 that set the date in stone.

People believe different things about the roots of the holiday, but no matter what you recognize as the history of Thanksgiving, it’s a day for family, gratitude and indulging in good food.

Carina Wang, staff writer

Sophomore Carina Wang is a staff writer for the 2015-2016 Colonel. She is on the FIRST Robotics team.

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