The Beginning and Tradition of Thanksgiving
Why is this important: There are many factions, mostly on the far left of the American political spectrum who believe that the celebrators of the first thanksgiving, killed Indians, took their food, and took of the Indians as slaves. Let’s set the record straight.
The group that set out from Plymouth, in southwestern England, in September 1620 included 35 members of a radical Puritan faction known as the English Separatist Church. In 1607, after illegally breaking from the Church of England, the Separatists settled in the Netherlands, first in Amsterdam and later in the town of Leiden, where they remained for the next decade under the relatively lenient Dutch laws. Due to economic difficulties, as well as fears that they would lose their English language and heritage, they began to make plans to settle in the New World. Their intended destination was a region near the Hudson River, which at the time was thought to be part of the already established colony of Virginia. In 1620, the would-be settlers joined a London stock company that would finance their trip aboard the Mayflower, a three-masted merchant ship, in 1620.
The native inhabitants of the region around Plymouth Colony were various tribes of the Wampanoag people, who had lived there for some 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims famously shared a harvest feast with the Pokanokets; the meal is now considered the basis for the first Thanksgiving holiday.
The pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving feast to celebrate the successful fall harvest. Celebrating a fall harvest was an English tradition at the time and the pilgrims had much to celebrate.
The 53 pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving were the only colonists to survive the long journey on The Mayflower and the first winter in the New World. Disease and starvation struck down half of the original 102 who set sail
These pilgrims made it through that first winter and, with the help of the local Wampanoag tribe, they had a hearty supply of food to sustain them through the next winter. The feast celebrated by the pilgrims in 1621 was never actually called “Thanksgiving” by the colonists. It was simply a harvest celebration.
The Continental Congress declared the first national Thanksgiving on December 18, 1777. In 1789, George Washington declared the last Thursday in November to be the national celebration of Thanksgiving. These were both declarations and not official holidays.
The current date celebrated as Thanksgiving was driven by retailers. In 1939, the last Thursday of November would fall on November 30. Retailers complained to FDR that this only left twenty-four shopping days before Christmas and begged him to push Thanksgiving just one week earlier. It was determined that most people do their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving and retailers hoped that with an extra week of shopping, people would buy more. FDR declared that a National Day of Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November.
For most, Thanksgiving is a non-religious holiday. It is a time to pause with family and friends to give thanks.
Rebecca Beatrice Brooks
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Schneiders “Setting the Record Straight” #1006