We think of Thanksgiving as being a uniquely American holiday. Its origins are much different from our conventional thinking. Most religions have a designated day of thanks, especially after the harvest season is over.
In England, church holidays became so overwhelming in number that King Henry VIII reduced them in number since no work was done on these holidays. Puritans in the Anglican Church wanted to eliminate all religious holidays except when situations warranted a day of thanksgiving or a day of fasting.
As explorers came to the new world, they brought with them some of the traditions from their home countries. In North America, the first Thanksgiving feast was held in Texas in 1541. Spanish explorer Coronado halted his army of 1500 in search of gold to give thanks.
When the Spanish founded St. Augustine, FL in 1565, they shared a meal with the native Timucuans.
Later, in 1598 another Spanish explorer set aside a day of thanks as his army barely survived a trek through the desert to reach the Rio Grande.
The first recognized Thanksgiving feast by settlers from England wasn’t until 1607. Colonists at Fort St. George feasted with the Abenaki Indians in Maine.
Fourteen years later, in 1621 was the Thanksgiving celebration that we now recognize. The celebration was a feast shared by colonists and the Wampanoag Indians.
Thanksgiving began as a day of local celebration until 1777. Up until then, Thanksgiving was not celebrated on the same day. The date selected was December 18. General George Washington called for a day of thanks following the colonists’ victory over the British at Saratoga. When Washington became President, the date was switched to late November.
In 1846, the editor of the Godey’s Lady’s Book, Sarah Hale, started a campaign to make Thanksgiving Day an official U.S. holiday. It was 17 years later. President Lincoln finally designated the last Thursday in November as a national holiday. America was in the midst of the Civil War at the time.
The current date for Thanksgiving, the last Thursday in November, was established by President Franklin Roosevelt. The President moved the date forward to provide for more days of shopping prior to Christmas.
Like many of our national holidays, Thanksgiving has a history that differs significantly from mythology.
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“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey