Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. This is not only a family event but friends can also come together for a special meal. The ingredients usually consists of turkey with stuffing, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and vegetables, followed by pumpkin pie. So that is the meal but what is Thanksgiving all about?
Thanksgiving is a special day of the year where Americans give thanks to what they have. They share this time with friends and families and share a good meal together.
Thanksgiving is also observed by Canadians on the second Monday in October. In Liberia it is celebrated on the first Thursday in November, and on Norfolk Island in Australia it is held on the last Wednesday in November.
For me as a genealogist I like to attend any moment such as this with my family. I am grateful not only for them but also family that have preceded me. If it wasn’t for them then there wouldn’t be me. And obviously if it wasn’t for your ancestors there wouldn’t be you.
Thanksgiving Day (Canada) – 2nd Monday of October
Thanksgiving Day (Liberia) – 1st Thursday of November
Thanksgiving Day (Australia – Norfolk Island) – Last Wednesday of November
Blackout Wednesday (US) – Day before Thanksgiving Day
Thanksgiving Day (US/Puerto Rico) – 4th Thursday of November
Black Friday (US) – Day after Thanksgiving Day
American Indian Heritage Day (US) – Day after Thanksgiving Day
Credit: The History Channel
What Happens on Thanksgiving Day?
The homeless and poor are also thought of during this time. There are annual food drives held which collect non-perishable food. Volunteers are also given Thanksgiving meals to hundreds of people, thanks to The Salvation Army.
Parades, football matches and shopping!
Not only do people enjoy a meal with the ones that they love but also there are Thanksgiving parades held all over the United States. These sometimes occur on the day itself or prior to it. These parades also mark the opening of the Christmas shopping season. During the parades you see many colorful floats, large balloons of cartoon characters, marching bands and also TV personalities will also make an appearance. These parades are also televised.
As many people will commute during these holidays a four-day weekend is usually observed.
Most businesses will also be closed during this day, as well as schools and government buildings. Public transport will run but however a less regular service is offered. As well as the general public most businesses and governments will allow their staff to have a four-day weekend as well.
Due to the high number of people travelling during this time the roads can be quite congestive. The day before Thanksgiving Day, dubbed Blackout Wednesday, is also busy as many bars and clubs are open to travellers who are getting together with family and old acquaintances. The parades and football games also put a burden onto the roads.
The day after Thanksgiving can also be busy as well as there are many shops open on this day It is commonly referred to as Black Friday.
The National Turkey Federation since 1947 would present the president with one live Turkey and two dressed ones. It was not until John F Kennedy that a Turkey was spared as he did not want to eat it. It has since been the custom to pardon a turkey from being killed and eaten on Thanksgiving.
Ronald Reagan was the first President to grant a presidential pardon. The turkey ended up at a petting zoo.
The Origin of Thanksgiving
So I have discussed what happens during the holidays that is known as Thanksgiving. But when was the first Thanksgiving and why did it begin?
Thanksgiving has been recognised as an annual holiday since 1863. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed during the Civil War a national day, and to be held on the final Thursday of November.
Thanksgiving is actually more than 400 years old!
You maybe surprised though that its origins are much further back than this. In fact it is believed that the very first Thanksgiving Day was held in El Paso, Texas in 1598. A similar event event was held in the Virginia Colony in 1619.
A couple of years later in 1621 Pilgrims held a harvest celebration. These Pilgrims were early European settlers who came to North America and settled at Plymouth. This harvest was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims, and was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
It is considered to be the origins of the modern day Thanksgiving. However, this was not their first true thanksgiving as it was not until 1623 when they thanked for the rains that ended the drought.
Rather than a meal or a feast, thanks were given during a church service. But this was the start of the Thanksgiving that we all know of today.
More than one Thanksgiving a year?!
Later during the 1600s thanksgiving became more common and so started to be annual events. But over the United States different days we observed by different communities. And some places may have more than one thanksgivings during the year.
During the time of the American Revolutionary War (1775-83) Congress appointed maybe more than one day to celebrate thanksgiving. They also noted which dates States should observe this during the year.
It was not until the first president, George Washington, in 1789 proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day.
The modern traditions of Thanksgiving that we all know today such as feasts and football matches comes from the latter half of the 19th Century. Church services were still being held followed by feasts. Football matches were also being played by high school rivals.
Finally a date is set for Thanksgiving!
Typically though Thanksgiving was held on the final Thursday of November. But in 1939 there were five Thursdays in November. So it was declared that Thanksgiving would take place on the last but one Thursday.
It was believed that President Franklin D Roosevelt declared this date as to give merchants more time to sell their goods in the lead up to Christmas. This was during a time known as The Great Depression in the States where many people lost their businesses. So this longer period would them increase the profits and help bring the country out of the depression.
The Senate in December 1941 made the amendment to when Thanksgiving should be observed. However, some states eseveral years after this continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on the last and not the fourth Thursday. Texas even did so as late as 1956.
Controversy of Thanksgiving
The festive spirit of Thanksgiving is unfortunately not shared by everyone though. Since 1970 a group of Native Americans, together with their supporters, have held a protest and demand a National Day of Mourning. This is conducted at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts and is always performed on Thanksgiving Day.
Native Americans celebrate their heritage on the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. They celebrate American Indian Heritage Day and honor the contributions that Native Americans have made to the United States. Their culture and heritage is also recognised during this time.
It is a protest as it is felt by some that Americans have seem to have forgotten the lives and cultures that were lost during the time of the early settlers. It is felt that the bloodied past has been glossed over. It should be forgotten and we should all remember what once happened and be thankful for everyone and everything that has made us who we’re are today.
Even though controversy may surround Thanksgiving it is still a special time for Americans to spend time together and give thanks. We are all grateful for the people and opportunities that have come into our lives. From our parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, to our neighbors and friends. They have all made us who we are today. We are grateful to them.
But as I have said we are not only grateful for the people that have come into our lives but also the opportunities. Whether it is a new job that has come our way or it may even be a new outlook on life. It is important that we seize the opportunities that come our way.
I cherish moments like this where I can spend time with my family and friends. They don’t come around as often as we would like them to. Times like these I can spend asking relatives questions about my ancestors and learn more about my heritage. It’s a great opportunity as it were to do more of our genealogy research.
We all want to know about our ancestry and gatherings like this can help us learn more about our roots. So when you next meet up with your relatives during Thansgiving or any other holiday for that matter give thanks to the people around you. And also ask about your ancestry. You maybe surprised as to what you may hear.
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