Most of us know the story of this holiday from an elementary school play where we donned pilgrim hats or feathers acting out the first Thanksgiving feast, but there's a whole lot more to the history behind the Thanksgiving holiday we should all be familiar with.
Share this quick Thanksgiving history with your children - and freshen up on your own traditions!
Quick Thanksgiving History
In the 17th century our forefathers set sail on the Mayflower in search of a happier way of life and religious freedom.
They landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts around 1620. Ironically, there is no reference to the actual rock as a landing place in pilgrims' accounts, but they do cite the famed piece of granite in writings about 100 years later.
Plymouth was as good a place as any to settle and the pilgrims were soon befriended by whom we now refer to as the Native American Indians. The first winter was severe and many pilgrims lost their lives to the elements.
Seeing the hardships of these struggling people, the Indians took the pilgrims under their wing and taught them the way of the land. Squanto, as he was called by the pilgrims, and others from his tribe showed the newcomers how to plant corn and squash and to hunt and fish. As a result of working together the harvest was bountiful. A feast was held to give thanks for the gifts of the land and kindness of the Indians.
The actual date of the first Thanksgiving is unknown. In the coming years, the pilgrims feasted only when the harvest was plentiful. And over the next century records indicate that the handful of people that populated the nation had some sort of Autumnal celebration.
Apparently George Washington attempted to set Thanksgiving on November 26, 1789, but with the political turmoil of the day the feast never made it into the official records. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving and every president following Lincoln had made the same declaration.
It wasn't until 1941 that President Roosevelt signed a bill that designated the fourth Thursday in November as the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Some hold hands in silent prayer while others express gratitude aloud, but all gather around the table and give thanks for what they have.
By Thanksgiving 1944 Americans were harvesting their Victory Gardens in anticipation of a bountiful holiday. New-reels projected the image of a wartime country where canned goods were being rationed and Americans were called upon to do their part at home.
Economic hardship lead to agricultural growth and 20 million people planted gardens, which produced 40% of the nations food. For many gardening became a family event or community activity bringing people together during this tumultuous era. Certainly, a time to give thanks for what one had and appreciate time spent with loved ones.
Most of this holiday's traditions center around food and football! Rather, families have developed their own traditions to stave off their appetites as the smell of turkey fills the house. As the bird is being carved, everyone comes together to feast and to fill their hearts with thanks.
Speaking of Turkey, surprisingly, there is no real evidence of turkey being served at the first Thanksgiving feasts in the early 17th century.
Apparently, "turkey" was the generic name to describe all fowl. Venison pops up in many historical accounts of the holiday as well as corn, boiled pumpkin, berries, and, possibly shellfish. Most still incorporate pumpkins in the traditional pie and berries in the form of cranberry sauce with their modern holiday meal.
Read on to learn a little more about the first Thanksgiving and a few fun ways to incorporate traditions into your celebration.
Though every family has it's traditional Thanksgiving menu, it doesn't hurt to try at least one new dish this year. Give one of these recipes a try! Read More