Origin of Thanksgiving
(and our Traditions)
The origin of Thanksgiving in America and its many traditions take us back to the early days of our country.
Our Thanksgiving Day history shows this to be a time to thank God for the many blessings bestowed upon us, our families, and our country. We find these expressions of Thanksgiving in poems, prayers, Thanksgiving Bible verses, and the Psalms of Thanksgiving.
And though many still focus on Thanksgiving in this way, it has also become a time to have fun with parades, parties, and football games.
Share your Thanksgiving traditions. See
Although the origin of Thanksgiving is often traced back to the time of the Pilgrims and Native Americans, Thanksgiving was not truly established as a national holiday observed annually until 1863 under President Lincoln. Yet, America’s Thanksgiving does have a long history. Here is a brief timeline of the Origin of Thanksgiving in America:
1619 – On December 4th, a group of English settlers landed about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown (the Colony of Virginia). Their charter required that a “day of thanksgiving” be observed every year on the day of their arrival. After several years, this site was abandoned.
1621 – The Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony celebrated a “harvest festival” with Massasoit (Great Sachem) and the people of the Pokanoket tribe, one of the tribes of the Wampanoag nation. Their feast consisted of waterfowl, wild turkeys, fish, and deer as well as corn, squash, and beans which Native Americans had taught the Pilgrims to cultivate.
1630-1777 – Various colonies observed days of thanksgiving each year, many of which were a day for prayer and fasting.
1777 – Following the American defeat of the British at
Saratoga, the Continental Congress gave the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving to be held on December 18th.
1789 – President George Washington proclaimed and created the first Thanksgiving for the United States of America for “…Thursday, the 26th day of November next…”. Read his remarkable words here.
1795-1800s – Various Presidents and state governors declared days of Thanksgiving.
1863 – During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln
proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. Since this date, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States.
1941 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law
establishing the day of Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of
A few traditions continue from that first “feast” in 1621. One is the gathering of family and friends. Another is the food. The third is thanksgiving and prayer.
Americans come together for a “feast”. Traditionally, turkey is the main course - baked, grilled, or fried. Popular companions to the bird on this day are potatoes (often mashed), sweet potatoes or yams, cranberry sauce, dressing (or stuffing), vegetables, and pumpkin pie. All of which are native to America.
For those less fortunate, local churches or community organizations offer Thanksgiving dinners or have food drives for local food banks.
Family & Friends
It is tradition that we get together with others for Thanksgiving. Families and friends will travel many miles to be together. Across America each 4th Thursday in November, there are shared stories, fun, and food.
Thanksgiving & Prayer
America has much to be thankful for and much to pray for and about. The people of this nation and the leaders of our country have often offered prayers of thankfulness for the blessings we have received. Select from one of these Thanksgiving prayers to share with your family and friends.
There are many parades across the United States on Thanksgiving Day or Thanksgiving weekend. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so much, some of them are Christmas parades! Let’s stick to Thanksgiving.
Some of the more well-known parades are America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit, Michigan; Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, New York; State Street Thanksgiving Day Parade (currently known as McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade) in Chicago, Illinois; and Turkey Day Classic Parade in Montgomery, Alabama.
Perhaps some games were played during that 3-day harvest festival in 1621 so it is not so unusual for Americans to want some games on Thanksgiving.
Enter football! Since 1934, the Detroit Lions have hosted a football game on Thanksgiving Day. College teams have also established Thanksgiving weekend clashes against historic rivals. They have some fun names too like: The Border Showdown, The Egg Bowl, The Holy War, The Battle for the Golden Boot, The Lone Star Showdown, The Bayou Bucket, The Backyard Brawl, and The Turkey Day Classic.
Other sports with Thanksgiving weekend tournaments are college basketball (76 Classic and the Old Spice Classic) and auto racing (the Turkey Night Grand Prix).
The origins of Thanksgiving brought about the traditions that we share and celebrate. They bring us together for cozy comfort food, love, and laughter. Through these traditions we share our love of family and the blessings of friendship. It is also a time to give a helping hand to those less fortunate – a profound American tradition.
So what are your Thanksgiving traditions? Share with us the
traditions (and photos too) that make Thanksgiving special for you and your family.
Do you have a Thanksgiving tradition you would like to share?
We'd love to hear your tradition. Do you have a great family recipe? A special trip? A family activity? Please share your tradition. You can include photos too!
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