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How Giving Thanks Became a Holiday

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by SS&SS

Article by Joy Cagil

Thanksgiving encompasses the concepts of gratefulness and friendship. As a holiday, it has a special history and a plethora of rituals. The idea of giving thanks for food and friendship did not start with today’s Thanksgiving holiday. It was always there, even before the major religions admitted it inside their rituals.

Earlier than the time humans settled down in certain parts of the planet earth, the hunters rejoiced and thanked their gods of nature for making the prey available. Later, when the settlements formed and people learned farming, giving thanks for nature’s gifts after a bountiful harvest became a seasonal ceremony.

Autumn is known to be a generous season to the New England area with its game and harvests. During the late sixteenth century, the Europeans who migrated to the Americas wrote about the different and flavorsome foods found in the new continent. The Wampanoag, the indigenous people of the New England with whom the early settlers celebrated the first Thanksgiving, already had celebratory rituals showing their thankfulness to nature.

Having gone through times of hunger and deprivation, the early colonists of the Plymouth plantation and their governor William Bradford were delighted with the bounty of 1621, and together with Wampanoag people and their Chief Massasoit, they celebrated the harvest for three days with entertainment, food, and friendship. As much as this celebration signaled entertainment for the Indians, it meant serious worship for the Puritans.

What the meals for those three days were like at that time is difficult to pinpoint, but culinary history of the region shows that the pies and the baking came much later after the people established colonies and built ovens. The Thanksgiving food in 1621 probably consisted of venison, wild turkeys, fish, onions, corn, berries, cranberries, and chestnuts.

The concept of friendship and diplomacy between the Indians and the colonists, unfortunately, did not remain for very long. The quick increase of the colonist population in New England led to tension and wars.

The early colonists were not called pilgrims. The word “pilgrim” was coined, out of context, during the early nineteenth century, and the idea to make Thanksgiving a national holiday spread around much later when a book, Chronicles of the Pilgrim Forefathers was published. In time, what had started as a harvest celebration became the national holiday, Thanksgiving, in 1863.

This holiday owes its birth to a woman, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale–the editor of the women’s magazine Godey’s Lady Book. Mrs. Hale campaigned for years before she was successful to convince President Lincoln to proclaim it as a national holiday. Since the American South saw this as a Yankee holiday, they made up their own Thanksgiving Day; however, the holiday took hold, and each ethnic community who immigrated to the new world added its own special touch to the food and the entertainment of the day.

In our time, a classic Thanksgiving dinner consists of turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and root vegetables with additions from the local and ethnic dishes and flavors, such as lasagna and turkey stuffed with a duck. The Thanksgiving meal’s main dish is the turkey. The Thanksgiving turkey gained presidential fame when the National Turkey Federation presented President Truman with a turkey. Eventually, pardoning a turkey from becoming a meal turned into a yearly ritual for the United States Presidents.

Thanksgiving, on the last Thursday of each November, is the heartfelt celebration of a grateful, melting-pot nation. May it spread and bring peace and prosperity to the entire world.

About the Author

Joy Cagil is an author on http://www.Writing.Com/ which is a site for WritersJoy Cagil loves holidays and history, and her portfolio can be found at http://www.Writing.Com/authors/joycag.

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