This week we celebrate one of the oldest American holidays. This is a day that goes back to the early days of settler colonization in the United States. This holiday is, of course, Thanksgiving. This holiday has been celebrated for several centuries and throughout the years the way of celebration has changed. The holiday was not actually declared a national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln declared it one in 1863.
What started Thanksgiving?
At this point in history, the origins of Thanksgiving almost feel like an old folktale, being passed from generation to generation. The story goes that one of the early colonial ships from England, the Mayflower, landed in Massachusetts Bay after a long and treacherous journey. The Mayflower held 102 passengers, who were on the boat for 66 days. They were in search of “The New World” and intended to land in the Hudson River. Instead, they ended up in the Massachusetts Bay, but nonetheless, they began to establish the Plymouth colony.
The Pilgrims, the more commonly known name of the settlers, endured a difficult winter, in which many lost their lives to various diseases. Only about 50 of the original settlers lived to see the spring. During the winter, the Pilgrims had not even moved to the land, but once spring came, they did. They were greeted by a member of the Abenaki tribe by a man who spoke English. The man returned a few days later with another Native American man named Squanto. Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe and had been kidnapped by a sea captain from England, who sold Squanto into slavery. He managed to escape and found his way back home, where he now planned to provide aid to the Pilgrims.
Settling Down with the Help of Squanto
Squanto helped the Pilgrims learn to cultivate crops, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish, what dangerous plants to avoid in the area, and so much more. He also aided in the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe forming an alliance. Their alliance reportedly remained for 50 years and is one of the only times in which we saw the colonists peacefully align with the local Indigenous tribes.
The First Thanksgiving
In November of 1621, the first corn harvest resulted in a successful crop for the Pilgrims. Their leader, Governor William Bradford, decided to host a celebratory feast in which the Pilgrims and allied Indigenous tribes would indulge in a feast together. The Wampanoag chief Massasoit was in attendance, along with other leaders of the tribe. This has since become referred to as the first Thanksgiving, while at the time it was not.
The Pilgrims continued to host a large feast in this way and over time the celebration expanded. The celebration grew and has been declared to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November annually.