Thanksgiving unofficially started 393 years ago as (considered by many, Separatists & Savages) “Pilgrims and Native Americans” peacefully gathered to enjoy and give thanks for a successful crop year, plentiful food and their survival.
A brief History of “How Thanksgiving Started & Why We Celebrate It” is below:
In 1609 a group of Pilgrims left England for the religious freedom in Holland where they lived and prospered, however their children were becoming more like the Dutch than English, so the “Pilgrims” decided to leave Holland after getting financial support from English investors.
On Sept. 6, 1620 the Pilgrims set sail for the New World on a ship called the Mayflower. They sailed from Plymouth, England and aboard were 44 Pilgrims, who called themselves the “Saints”, and 66 others, whom the Pilgrims called the “Strangers.”
The long trip was cold and damp and took 65 days. The trip was difficult and many passengers became sick and one person died by the time land was sighted on November 10th. The long trip had led to many disagreements between the “Saints” and the “Strangers”. After land was sighted a meeting was held and an agreement was worked out, called the Mayflower Compact, which guaranteed equality and unified the two groups. They joined together and named themselves the “Pilgrims.” A landing party was sent ashore to locate a good area to settle and the Mayflower dropped anchor in mid to late November or early December and the Pilgrims settled in Patuxet, which is now called Plymouth, where the legendary Plymouth Rock can be found.
The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. The cold, snow and sleet was exceptionally heavy, interfering with the workers as they tried to construct their settlement. They also feared attack by the local Native American Indians, but the Patuxets were a peaceful group and did not attack. March brought warmer weather and the health of the Pilgrims improved, but many had died during the long winter. Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less that 50 survived the first winter.
On March 16, 1621 , what was to become an important event took place, an Indian brave walked into the Plymouth settlement. The Pilgrims were frightened until the Indian called out “Welcome” (in English!).
His name was Samoset and he was an Abnaki Indian. He had learned English from the captains of fishing boats that had sailed off the coast. After staying the night Samoset left the next day. He soon returned with another Indian named Squanto who spoke better English than Samoset. Squanto told the Pilgrims of his voyages across the ocean and his visits to England and Spain. It was in England where he had learned English.
Squanto’s importance to the Pilgrims was enormous and it can be said that they would not have survived without his help. It was Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to tap the maple trees for sap. He taught them which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers. He taught them how to plant the Indian corn by heaping the earth into low mounds with several seeds and fish in each mound. The decaying fish fertilized the corn. He also taught them to plant other crops with the corn, and also, to hunt and trap turkeys. Today, the Turkey, which helped save the Pilgrims, is our symbol of Thanksgiving.
The harvest in October was very successful and the Pilgrims found themselves with enough food to put away for the winter. There was corn, fruits and vegetables, fish to be packed in salt, and meat to be cured over smoky fires.
The Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the wilderness, they had raised enough crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter, they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. They had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate.
The Pilgrim Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native Americans. They invited Squanto and the other Indians to join them in their celebration. Their chief, Massasoit, and 90 braves came to the celebration which lasted for 3 days. They played games, ran races, marched and played drums. The Indians demonstrated their skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills. Exactly when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed the celebration took place in mid-October.
The following year the Pilgrims harvest was not as bountiful, as they were still unused to growing the corn. During the year they had also shared their stored food with newcomers and the Pilgrims ran short of food and several more died.
The 3rd year brought a spring and summer that was hot and dry with the crops dying in the fields. Governor Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer, and it was soon thereafter that the rain came. To celebrate – November 29th of that year was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. This date is believed to be the real true beginning of the present day Thanksgiving Day. Side Note: When I was asked to explain our Thanksgiving tradition while I worked in Siberia, I told our group who threw a party for us Americans, about how this holiday got started, as described above. I also told them, that in the year 1623, The Jeffress Clan arrived from Scotland & Wales, and that America has prospered from that time on, or at least most of the time. 🙂
The custom of an annually celebrated thanksgiving, held after the harvest, continued through the years. During the American Revolution (late 1770’s) a day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving day in mid-October.
Happy Thanksgiving and remember how it started and give thanks for what you have and need, and not just what you want.