Short History of Thanksgiving in America


Thanksgiving has become one of America’s favorite holidays. Every year families gather round the table to feast on turkey and delicious side dishes. The big meal is usually followed by a nap, some football on television, and then fun family games or walks. No matter what traditions take place during this day, Thanksgiving has always been a time to stop and give thanks.

The First Thanksgiving

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims began a three day feast to celebrate one year at Plymouth and a bountiful harvest. The Wampanoag Indians, along with their King, joined in the celebration. For three days they feasted, hunted, and enjoyed games together. This was considered the first Thanksgiving in America.

The first Thanksgiving would not have been like Thanksgiving today. The Pilgrim’s and Indian’s had plenty of venison and wild game (turkey, goose, duck), seafood, vegetables (including pumpkins and beans), wheat flour, Indian corn, and spices such as leeks, olive oil, and currants. Even so, there was no pumpkin pie, no sweet potatoes, no mashed potatoes, no ham, corn on the cob, cranberry sauce, or any casserole dishes that have become so popular. More than likely, the main food would have been meats.

Pilgrim’s also ate differently. They ate dinner early, and when they did eat, they ate whatever was placed in front of them. They did not eat in courses, they ate as they felt. If they wanted desert first, they ate desert. If they wanted meat, they ate meat. The only eating utensils were forks, spoons, and hands.

The Pilgrim’s and Indians enjoyed playing games, racing, and showing off other skills in gaming events. The Indians demonstrated their expertise in shooting a bow and arrow. The Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills.

This three day event, has become known as America’s first Thanksgiving, and even though the food and games have changed; the meaning of the day has not.

Thanksgiving Becomes A National Holiday

Throughout American history other days of Thanksgiving were recorded, and several presidents (George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison) tried to set aside a National day of Thanksgiving. However, the first official Thanksgiving Day came in 1863, after President Lincoln observed the tragedy of Gettysburg, in the midst of the Civil War.

He wrote his “Proclamation of Thanksgiving,” on October 3, 1863. In it he reminded the Nation from where their bountiful blessings come, and said: “I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

President Lincoln had declared the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving. In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week (to make shopping for the Christmas season longer), but changed it to the fourth Thursday in 1941.

Thanksgiving Today

Thanksgiving has always been about food, family, games, and giving thanks. Food is definitely the main attraction on Thanksgiving Day. Every year, thousands wake up early to roast the turkey and prepare a feast, which provide enough leftovers for a whole week.

Families and friends gather and often tell each other for what they are thankful. Some families make it a tradition to watch “The Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade” (kick off to the holiday season), or some football. Many families end the day with playing games ranging from board games to football.

No one really knows what happened on the first Thanksgiving, or even when it happened. Even so, Thanksgiving has become one of America’s most beloved holidays for food, family, and fun.

Fun Facts About Thanksgiving

Here are a few fun facts about “turkey day” in America:

  • Thanksgiving is the most travelled holiday of the year
  • Minnesota produces the most turkeys
  • Americans are estimated to eat “46 million turkeys” on Thanksgiving
  • Three towns are named after the Turkey (Turkey, North Carolina, Turkey, Texas, and Turkey Creek, Louisiana)
  • 1934 was the first Thanksgiving the Lions and Bears played
  • The turkey was the inspiration for a dance called, “the turkey trot”
  • Deep Fried Turkey originated in the Bayou in the 1800’s
  • The first “championship football game” was on Thanksgiving Day, 1876
  • More than “5,000 football games” took place by the 1890’s, on Thanksgiving Day
  • The Macy’s Parade begin in 1924, and Snoopy has appeared more than any character

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!