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Why We Celebrate Thanksgiving

How Americans came to give thanks on this holiday.

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Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with friends and family. Today, most Americans eat turkey and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, but this traditional holiday started a whole lot differently. It took centuries before Thanksgiving became a nationally celebrated day.

Brief History of Thanksgiving

A group of people left Plymouth, England, in September 1620 on the small ship Mayflower. They were looking for a place where they could practice their religion freely. It took a long time, but they finally made it to Massachusetts Bay, where they started a village.

The first winter was so cold, most of the colonists (called the Pilgrims) stayed aboard ship. Only half of the passengers lived through the winter. When the group went ashore in March, they met an Abenaki Indian who surprisingly greeted them in English. When he came back a few days later, he brought a man called Squanto.

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

Thanksgiving Evolution

Sarah Josepha Hale

In 1817, New York became the first state to hold a yearly Thanksgiving holiday. 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 establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving that in 1827 she launched a campaign for it. She is known as the “Mother of Thanksgiving” because of the work she put into making Thanksgiving happen. After 36 years, President Abraham Lincoln decided to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. He wanted to bring people together during the Civil War. Lincoln put the national holiday on the final Thursday in November.

Interesting Facts

  • Lobster, seal, and swans were on the Pilgrims’ menu.
  • New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the largest and most famous one. Around 2-3 million people attend it every year.
  • For the last few decades, the president of the United States has “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year.


Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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