What is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving Feast

Do you know the real story behind Thanksgiving? Is it just about remembering the Pilgrims and Indians? Are we supposed to give thanks for what we have while remembering those who have less? Do we pray to God and reflect on our year? What about stuffing your face with Turkey, while watching football and planning out tomorrow’s Black Friday shopping trip? There are so many ideas behind Thanksgiving; traditions from the past that have become the celebration of today, but where did it all start? What is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving as we know it today came from three different types of celebrations. The first comes from a long ago time when people celebrated and rejoiced after a successful harvest. When colonist arrived to the New World from England they brought this tradition with them. The second celebration is another tradition from the Pilgrims who felt the importance of religious observance to thank God through prayer and feast. These celebrations would occur anytime of the year.  The last celebration is the commemoration of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock and surviving a harsh winter with the help of the local Native Americans.

As a national holiday Thanksgiving was first celebrated on November 26, 1789 when President George Washington issued a proclamation declaring the day of thanks for the blessings God gave the new nation and its independence from Great Britain.

     “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to recommend to the people of the United States a Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness”

After that first declaration various harvest and thanksgivings were celebrated but it wasn’t until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Tuesday in November a national holiday that Thanksgiving was consistently celebrated as a nation.  In 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November. He did this to give people living during the Great Depression more time to make money before Christmas.


 We all know the story of the Pilgrims and Indians but it has become more myth than truth. Yes there were Pilgrims who struggled though a harsh winter. Yes there where the Native Americans living near by who were known as the Wampanoag. One particular Native American man named Squanto helped the Pilgrims survive. But the true story isn’t really happy and peaceful. It is sad truth that the Pilgrims stole from the Native Americans. They also treated them badly and thought the Native people weren’t as good as the Pilgrims. They stole to survive and believed God was on their side. It is the way people thought back then. After the harsh winter they gave thanks to God. The spirit of Thanksgiving can be seen in the actions of the Wampanoag Indians. Instead of hating the Pilgrims for their bad deeds they helped them survive.

Thanksgiving should not only be a time to give thanks for all we have but a time to remember how far we have come. Perhaps the real first Thanksgiving wasn’t born from good behavior but the spirit of Thanksgiving can be found in those first events.  The Pilgrims did overcome a harsh winter. While they may have abused the Native Americans they also learned from them. Truly, the Pilgrims would not have survived without the help of their new found neighbors. It was Squanto who helped establish a peace treaty between the various Native American tribes and the Pilgrims.

How fortunate for us to be able to learn from our past, good and bad. Thanksgiving is a celebration that requires each of us to reflect on our lives and give thanks for our blessings. Let us all remember our beginnings from that first harsh winter of desperation to becoming a country to today’s blessings. Living in Pasadena may not make it easy to realize where our food comes from but take the spirit of those long ago celebrations of a good harvest and rejoice in the good things to eat. Remember the Native Americans and their willingness to try peace even though they were wronged. Will you thank God for your school, family, food, shelter, friends? What else can you give thanks for?

Happy Thanksgiving Falcons!

As always, I used library resourced to search for information about Thanksgiving. Here are my citations.

  1. Newman, Jason. “The Real First Thanksgiving.” American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012
  2. White, David. “The First Thanksgiving.” Social Studies for Kids. 15 Nov 2010: n.p. SIRS Discoverer. Web. 20 Nov 2012.
  3. “George Washington: Proclamation for a General Thanksgiving (1789).” American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012
  4. “Squanto.”  American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012
  5. “Squanto.” Image. AP/Wide World Photos. American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012.
  6. “Thanksgiving feast.” Image. Library of Congress. American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012.
  7. “The American Thanksgiving: The Evolution of a Tradition.”  Thanksgiving Primer. 1991: 4-7. SIRS Discoverer. Web. 20 Nov 2012.

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