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Thanksgiving Day

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In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying on board 102 passengers. Of those were assortments of religious secessionists venturing to a new home to freely practice their faith and others lured in by the false promises of prosperity and land ownership of the New World. After an uncomfortable crossing from England, the ship dropped anchor near the edge of Cape Cod, far north from the initial destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. A month later, the Mayflower crossed the Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the establishment of constructing a village at Plymouth.

Throughout the first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious diseases. Consequently, only half of Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved on ashore, where they received a friendly greeting from an English speaking Abenaki Indian. A few days later, he returned with another Native American who was able to serve as a translator, Tisquantum. He was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery. Surprisingly, Tisquantum escaped from England and returned to his homeland able to speak English. Once back home, Tisquantum taught the pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract the sap from maple trees, catch fish and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which endured for more than fifty years. Presently, the remains of the tribe are an example for the harmony between the European colonists and Native Americans.

After the Pilgrims’ learned to harvest corn effectively, Governor William Bradford organized a feast and invited a group of the colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving”— even though the Pilgrims did not used the term at the time— the bountiful gathering lasted for three days. Although no records exists of the historic banquet menu, Edward Winslow noted in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men for the preparation of the festival, and the Wampanoag tribe incorporated five deer. Historians suggested many of the dishes were most likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking techniques. Due to insufficient supplies, the Pilgrims did not have an oven on board and sugar supplies dwindled by the fall of 1621. The first Thanksgiving did not feature desserts, which in present day has become a signature contemporary.

The second celebration was held in 1623 to mark the end of a long dreadful drought that threatened the year’s harvest. The act of fasting before Thanksgiving dinner became a common practice in New England settlements. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress established several days to celebrate Thanksgiving; however, in 1789 George Washington constructed the first official Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States. In the proclamation, he expected everyone to praise the country’s independence and the ratification of the U.S. constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison carried the tradition on assigning days to give thanks during their presidencies.

In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adapt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each celebrated on a different day. However, many southerners were not aware of the tradition. Renowned writer Sarah Joseph Hale launched a campaign to raise awareness on establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For three decades, the author published countless editorials and sent multiples letters to governors, senator, presidents, and politicians. Abraham Lincoln finally responded to Hale’s request in 1863, he created a proclamation stating, “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 was scheduled for the last Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that given day every year until 1939. Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in order to stimulate retail sales during the Great Depression. In 1941 Roosevelt, signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

As time has passed, the Thanksgiving celebration lost its religious significance; instead, many American households focused on cooking and sharing a fulfilling meal with family and friends. A turkey is the highlight of celebrating Thanksgiving and the iconic of the holiday. There is no documentation of a turkey being present when the Pilgrims hosted the first inaugural feast in 1621. According to the National Turkey Federation, ninety percent of Americans eat the bird each year, regardless being roasted, baked, or deep-fried. Other traditional plates include turkey stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Last but not least, the most important implication of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is the gravy. These dishes are major aspects of the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes and are considered to be important aspects of the dinner.

Besides many Americans indulging themselves in bountiful meals, parades have also become an engraved component of the holiday in many cities across the United States. Since 1924, the Macy’s department store has presented the largest and most famous Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City, attracting more than 3 million people along its 2.5-mile route and obtaining an enormous amount of television attendants. The parade features marching bands, live performers, and extravagant floats projecting a variety of celebrations and gigantic balloons of famous cartoon characters. Beginning in the mid-20th century, the president of the United States has pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey each year, sparing the turkey from slaughter and sending it to a farm for retirement. Another tradition around Thanksgiving is presenting honorable citizens from cities across the United States with an annual turkey. Apart from honoring hardworking individuals, volunteering is a common activity, and many communities hold food drives and host free dinners for the less fortunate.

For many scholars, the question of whether the feast at Plymouth was authentically the first Thanksgiving in the United States has yet to be answered. Undeniably, historians have noted other ceremonies of thanks among England settlers in North America that correlate with the Pilgrims celebration. In 1565, for example, Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé organized a celebration in St. Augustine, Florida, and invited the local tribe of Timucua to give thanks for the crew’s safe arrival to the new world. Other ceremony among England settlers was on December 4, 1619, thirty-eight settlers reached Berkeley Hundred on the banks of Virginia’s James River, and a proclamation was established stating the date of giving thanks to the “almighty god.” There is no accurate date of the first Thanksgiving in the United States. The holiday was established to appreciate the simple things many Americans loss track about through the years. In words of Edward Sandford Martin, “Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow.”

Native Americans and others find the Thanksgiving story portrayed to the American public, and especially to schoolchildren, controversial. In their point of view, the traditional narrative descriptively illustrates a sunny portrait of relations between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people, inveigling a long and bloody history between Native Americans and European settlers that resulted in the deaths of millions. Protestors have gathered on the date to be considered as the first Thanksgiving on the top of Cole’s Hill, to commemorate a day of mourning for the controversial conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers.

To conclude, the roots of Thanksgiving trace back to the opposite side of the Atlantic. Without European settlers embarking the shores of the United States, Thanksgiving will not be what it is today. Thanksgiving is not an ordinary day for many Americans. As a nation, we give gratitude for what has motivated us to continue to prosper in life; a moment to appreciate our family and friends. For scholars, the journey to conclude an authentic date is ever ending. In words of Mark Twain, “Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for – annually, not oftener – if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.”

Works Cited

1. Filippone, Peggy T. “Thanksgiving History – Turkey History.” Recipes for Home Cooking. Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, 2006. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. <http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/tgivinghistory.htm>. 2. Ozersky, Josh. “Pilgrims’ Progress.” Time 176.21 (2010): 97-98. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Nov. 2011.

3. Schulz, Edgar Martínez. “Thanksgiving.” Confrontation 98/99 (2007): 303-311. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Nov. 2011.
4. Wilson, Jerry. “The Thanksgiving Story – History of Thanksgiving.” Wilstar – Discover the History of Holidays, Good Eating Habits, Games, Puzzles, and Music. Wilstar, 2011. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. <http://wilstar.com/holidays/thankstr.htm>. 5. “The Pilgrim’s First Thanksgiving.” Monkeyshines On America (1997): 4. Primary Search. Web. 26 Nov. 2011.

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