What is the history of Thanksgiving?

Little did the pilgrims and Indians know when they shared an autumn harvest feast in 1621 that it would be the beginning of an annual day of giving thanks called Thanksgiving. The gathering in 1621 lasted three days and is now known as the first Thanksgiving.

The colonists held a second day of thanksgiving in 1623 to celebrate the end of a long drought. Days of thanksgiving were practiced by individual colonies and states from that time on, but it was not until 1789 that President George Washington issued the first official proclamation of a Thanksgiving Day. In 1817, New York became the first of several states to adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; however, all did not celebrate it on the same day.

In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale, editor and writer, launched a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. For the next 36 years, she wrote many editorials and letters to politicians. In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln headed her request and proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held every year on the last Thursday in November.

During the Great Depression in 1939, in an effort to increase holiday sales, President Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week. Because of heavy public opposition, he moved it to the fourth Thursday of November in 1941, which is the day it is celebrated today.

Through the years, for many Thanksgiving has lost religious significance that it had in the beginning. It is now a day to meet with family and share a big dinner. Though it is questionable as to whether the pilgrims ate turkey on the first Thanksgiving, it has become the meat of choice for Thanksgiving through the years. Along with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie is served.

Today, volunteering, especially in the form of food drives, and Thanksgiving Day parades are common. Another popular Thanksgiving tradition is the presidential pardon of a turkey, saving the bird from being eaten at a Thanksgiving feast.