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We always hear about the Thanksgiving celebrations from our Western friends, but do you know the history of the festival?

It is acknowledged today that one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies was in 1621, when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast. Thanksgiving is a holiday that has been celebrated for generations in the USA but it wasn’t actually until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that a Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed to be held each November by President Abraham Lincoln.

In 1621, when the Plymouth Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower, they were severely malnourished and suffering from outbreaks of contagious disease and only half of the passengers ever made it onto the shores. When they did, they were greeted by Native Americans who taught them how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. In the November of 1621 and after the success of the Pilgrim’s first corn Harvest, Governor William Bradford organised a celebratory feast and invited a group of Native American allies. It was this that is now remembered as the first Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims held a second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought that had threatened the harvest and prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious fast. Days of Fasting and Thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis then became common practice. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year. In 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States, calling for Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion of the war for Independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. In 1863 and in the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that all Americans should ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”He then scheduled Thanksgiving to be held on the final Thursday in November and it was celebrated on this date until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

In many American households, the religious significance of Thanksgiving has now been lost and instead, it now largely involves cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends.

We wish all of those celebrating today a very happy Thanksgiving!

 


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