The American Thanksgiving Day is a commemoration of the First Thanksgiving, the feast between the Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 at the Plymouth Plantation. It originated from the fusion of European and Native American harvest festivals and rituals, which had a similar premise, but professed completely different religions.
Thanksgiving in the United States takes place on the fourth Thursday of November, which usually, but not always, means the last Thursday. The celebration of the holiday most frequently includes a family dinner. The traditional dishes during the feast are supposedly based on the meal than the Pilgrims and the natives shared. Thanksgiving in the US is also filled with joyful parades and gigantic shopping sales, known as Black Friday.
First Thanksgivings of the English settlers on the territory of today’s US took place in the Commonwealth of Virginia at the very beginning of the 17th century. Later on, in 1621, 53 Plymouth colonists feasted with 90 Native Americans, who taught them how to cultivate the land and to fish. The three-day celebration appeared in the accounts by William Bradford (Of Plymouth Plantation) and Edward Winslow (Mourt’s Relation). Most likely, the first Thanksgiving from civil authority occurred in Plymouth in 1623, because it was independent from the European church. Throughout the 17th and the first half of the 18th century, the colonies celebrated the holiday sporadically, only in the face of exceptionally fortuitous events, such as victory in war. During the Revolution, however, the Continental Congress issued The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1777, which George Washington affirmed as a celebration of American victory over the British at Saratoga. The President appointed the first Thanksgiving Day in 1789, but its yearly occurrence was proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The final date of the American Thanksgiving was fixed as late as 1942.
The Thanksgiving tradition’s most important event is the family dinner, which needs to combine a turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweat corn, pumpkin pie, squash, and cranberry sauce. Other customs, however, are even more interesting. Since Thanksgiving inaugurates the Christmas season, in the tradition of A Christmas Carol, people feel the urge to do good deeds; that is why charity work attracts a lot of attention. Famous parades are walking down the streets of New York (Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade) or Detroit (America’s Thanksgiving Parade). Black Friday incites shopping fever and NFL gathers its excited fans in front of a TV. The point of the holiday, however, is to give thanks, which is why many Americans take part in masses or say grace before the feast. Around the table at home, every family member ought to confess, why he or she is thankful for God’s work this past year. The religious aspect of the holiday is still very vibrant today.
Thanksgiving is a federal holiday, which means that all government offices and most public institutions have a day off. They might also be closed on Friday (the next day), in order to grant a four-day weekend to the employees. Many private businesses are also out of service for the holiday.
Although it is one of the most significant days in the American calendar, Thanksgiving is surrounded by the aura of controversy. Similarly to Columbus’ Day, this holiday is despised for ignoring the terrifying Native American history. Some scholars argue, however, that the celebration derives from harvest rituals, and thus it is an homage to Native American culture. Thanksgiving is undeniably a holiday that constitutes American tradition. Hence, it is important to realize what it celebrates or to give it our own meaning, remembering the historical American tradition from the time before the settlers came.