Thanksgiving can easily be considered the all-American holiday, but where did it come from? Originally, the holiday had religious significance, with European settlers— known as the pilgrims—praying for a bountiful harvest in the year ahead and offering thanks for the fruits of the fields in the past year. Over the past 400 years, Thanksgiving has morphed into the family-fueled, belt-busting occasion that is celebrated around the world—regardless of color or creed, religious views or ancestral ties. Thanksgiving has become a springboard into the holiday season – and for good reason.
The Story of Thanksgiving
The story of Thanksgiving dates back to the autumn of 1621 when the pilgrims and the Native Americans gathered for the first Thanksgiving feast. Upon landing in the New World, the pilgrims encountered Squanto (whose full name was Tisquantum), a member of the Patuxet tribe who were native to the area that later became known as Massachusetts. The Patuxet tribe had merged with the Wampanoag tribe after their ranks had been decimated due to illness.
Understanding how important it was to be welcomed with open arms by those outside your own tribe, Squanto befriended the pilgrims. He taught them to grow crops such as beans, pumpkins, and corn, and even served as their interpreter to other members of Native American tribes. Without the knowledge bestowed upon them by Squanto, the pilgrims would likely not have survived the harsh New England winter.
To show their thanks, the pilgrims invited their new friends to a celebration—and thus “The First Thanksgiving Feast” was born.
National Holiday Declared
Before 1863, Thanksgiving was celebrated in the United States, however, each state set their own date to observe the holiday. In fact, Thanksgiving was mostly only celebrated throughout the northern and New England
The first countrywide celebration occurred in 1789, thanks to President George Washington, who called for a day of prayer to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good what was, that is, or that will be.”
More than 70 years later, President Abraham Lincoln was petitioned by Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old editor of the then-popular magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, to set aside a day of giving. In 1863, her petition was granted, and Abraham Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.