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Origin Of Holidays

The History of Thanksgiving Day


In 1621, the Pilgrims had a feast to celebrate the harvest. The first year of living in this new land was hard on the new immigrants as they were not used to such weather conditions and not familiar with the ideal ways to farm on this land. Many have died through illness and starvation. Out of 102 who came off the Mayflower, only 56 survived.

As a mostly devout group, Pilgrims would not have a day of thanks defiled with such gluttony as a feast. Also, this observance in record was not an annual thing. In fact, it is more realistic to believe that everyone around the villiage who contributed to a successful harvest, Native and Pilgrims, spent a few days enjoying the bounty.

Unlike what would have been seen in some paintings of this original "Thanksgiving Day", women and men and Natives did not sit down together at one large table filled with food and say grace.

Women and children also did not sit with the men at the same time. They were generally given the leftovers and sent away to their own areas away from the men, being the property of men as they were. Female natives were at the table, however, as their custom was quite different. Of course now, children are usually given their own table away from adults at large gatherings and the women tend to do all the work to serve the men, so some things haven't changed much:-) The reason there was no repeat in the following years is the harvesting was abysmally poor.

On December 4, 1619, on the Berkeley Plantation in Virginia, about 40 English settlers observed the first annual day to thank God. This private annual holiday was held for 3 years until the colony was wiped out in 1622. At this observation, it was purely to give thanks to god and reflected upon Him. There was no great feast involved.

In 1676, the counsel of men in Plymouth declared June 29th as a day to give thanks to God. This was a purely solemn occassion to praise God for all that He has brought them through. A feast was also observed later that year to celebrate the harvest which was thought of as a blessing from God for their observation. There were no Natives at that feast as the friendly relationship deteriorated over religious beliefs and the Pilgrims no longer were dependant upon the Natives.

In 1777, all thirteen colonies observed 8 days of Thanksgiving. In 1789, George Washington declared an official day for Thanksgiving, but many, like Thomas Jefferson, scoffed at the idea of imposing a madatory day of thanks.

While there have been separate observances of days to thank God and days of celebrating the harvest, the two did not come together until 1830 when New York proclaimed an official Thanksgiving Day after an article by Sarah Josepha Hale appeared in her Boston Lady's Magazine and Godey's Lady's Book urging the need of this as a national holiday. By 1852, 29 states have joined in observing Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November.

In 1863, this successful campaign finally became an official national holiday when Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer.

As this country grew and people from many different countries and religious beliefs came here, the day of thanks expanded to encompass not only the origianl feast, but also a genuine day of thanks combined with the foods of the people who came here.