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The Evolution of Thanksgiving

From the Pilgrims to the Mother of Thanksgiving.

By:  |  November 24, 2021  |    472 Words
thanksgiving GettyImages-481655521

(Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with friends and family. While eating that extra piece of pumpkin pie may be common during today’s celebration, this traditional holiday started very differently. It took centuries before Thanksgiving became a celebrated day across the nation.

Brief History of Thanksgiving

In September 1620, a group of religious separatists left Plymouth, England, on the small ship named Mayflower, seeking a place where they could practice their faith freely. It took 66 days to arrive near the tip of Cape Cod and then another month to reach Massachusetts Bay, where they finally started a village.

Re-enactment of the first Thanksgiving meal (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The first winter was so brutal, most of the colonists (also called the pilgrims) stayed aboard ship, suffering from diseases and exposure. Only half of the original passengers lived through the winter. When the group went ashore in March, they were met by an Abenaki Indian who surprisingly greeted them in English. When he came back a few days later, he brought a man named Squanto with him. Squanto was from the Patuxet tribe. He had been kidnapped and sold into slavery by an English sea captain, but had escaped and returned to his home.

Squanto taught the tired and malnourished Pilgrims how to grow corn, obtain sap from maple trees, and catch fish. He also introduced them to the Wampanoag, the local tribe that would share the first Thanksgiving dinner with the Pilgrims. This famous meal took place in November 1621, after the colonists’ first corn harvest was a success.

Sarah Josepha Hale

Sarah Josepha Hale (Library of Congress)

The dinner didn’t consist of the dishes we eat during the holiday today. Many of the foods were prepared using Native American cooking methods and spices.

Thanksgiving Evolution

The first U.S. president, George Washington, tried to start a Thanksgiving holiday, but it was just a one-time event. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving. Other states followed, but they each celebrated on different days.

Sarah Josepha Hale is a famous author noted for the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She was so adamant about starting a national holiday of Thanksgiving that in 1827 she launched a campaign for it. She is known as the “Mother of Thanksgiving” because of her dedication to the cause.

Interesting Facts

  • Lobster, seal, and swans were on the Pilgrims’ menu.
  • Presented by Macy’s department store since 1924, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the largest and most famous one, attracting some 2-3 million spectators along its 2.5-mile route.
  • From about the mid-20th century, the president of the United States has “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year.

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