Thanksgiving Day is a harvest festival celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada, to give thanks for the bountiful crops. It’s a holiday to express gratitude, and appreciation to God, family and friends for all the material possessions and relationships one has been blessed with. In the United States it falls on the fourth Thursday of November. In Canada it is celebrated on the second Monday in October.
Those in the US commonly believe that the first Thanksgiving happened in 1621, at Plymouth Plantation, in Massachusetts. This celebration occurred early in the history of what would become one of the original Thirteen Colonies that later were to become the United States. This Thanksgiving was modeled after harvest festivals that were commonplace in Europe at the time. According to some historians the Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574.
The original festival was probably held in early October 1621 and was celebrated by the 49 men and 4 women who had survived the voyage and the first winter, (102 had set out from Plymouth, 18 of them women), along with local Indian chief Massasoit and 90 of his men from the Wampanoag tribe. The celebration lasted three days and featured a feast that included numerous types of waterfowl, wild turkeys and fish procured by the colonists, and five deer brought by the Natives.
However, there is strong evidence for earlier celebrations in Canada, held by the explorer Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean. Frobisher’s Thanksgiving celebration was not for harvest, but for homecoming. He had safely returned from a search for the Northwest Passage, avoiding the later fate of Henry Hudson and Sir John Franklin. In the year 1578, Frobisher held a formal ceremony in Newfoundland to give thanks for surviving the long journey.
Finally, an academic in Florida has evidence that suggests the earliest attested “thanksgiving” celebration in what is now the United States was actually celebrated earlier still. It was organised by the Spanish on September 8 1565, in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. Explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles and his men held a thanksgiving dinner of bean soup with a group of Timucua Indians before going on to establish the oldest continuously occupied European-established city and port in the continental United States.
However, by the time people became aware of Florida’s claim to the first Thanksgiving in 1965 it was too late – the story of the Pilgrim Fathers celebrating their survival is too well established now, and roast turkey sounds a lot more appetizing than bean soup!
The centerpiece of a contemporary Thanksgiving celebration is a large meal, generally centered around a large roasted turkey with a variety of foods native to the New World. However, as further settlers arrived, immigrants such as the Irish, Scottish and Germans added their own harvest traditions to the celebrations.
Despite this, turkey is still the most common main dish of a Thanksgiving dinner – research suggests 91% of Americans eat turkey on this day. In 2009 U.S. consumption of turkey was 17 pounds per person and that year 7.149 billion lbs of turkey meat was produced by domestic growers, creating gross income of $3.57 billion. In 2010 it is expected that an estimated 247 million turkeys will be raised in the US.
How did the event become a public holiday? The editor of the women’s magazine “The Godey’s Lady’s Book”, Sarah Hale, lobbied Congress until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving. It was President Franklin Roosevelt who actually signed a bill in the 1940’s to make it into a National Holiday. It is now enthusiastically celebrated across the USA and the travel industry says the busiest day of the entire year is usually the day after Thanksgiving.
As Florida is actually the home of the original Thanksgiving, and it offers the perfect escape from colder northern climes, perhaps we can tempt you with our special Thanksgiving Homecoming package? You’ll enjoy three days and two nights in splendid luxury, with a four course Thanksgiving Dinner that includes roast Turkey, but no bean soup!