How is it that Americans came to celebrate this day? What was the first Thanksgiving like? There are many dates throughout history in which Thanksgiving celebrations were held including the following:
•El Paso, Texas claims that the very first Thanksgiving was held in the location that became El Paso on April 30, 1598, when Spaniard Don Jun de Onate commanded his expedition to rest and celebrate a thanksgiving mass.
•On December 4, 1619 the Virginia Colony held a collective thanksgiving prayer near the current site of the Berkeley Plantation.
•In the autumn of 1621 after their first harvest, the pilgrims who had made the voyage to the New World 10 months earlier prepared a feast to give thanks for their blessings. The pilgrims would not have survived in this harsh and unknown land without help from their Native American friends; therefore, they invited the Native Americans to join them for their celebratory feast which most likely included duck, venison (deer that the Native Americans had killed and given to the Pilgrims), seafood, cabbage, squash, onions, and corn. The Thanksgiving celebration probably lasted for about a week in which the Pilgrims and Native Americans sang songs, danced, and played games and sports. Although the first Thanksgiving included food and fun, traditional days of thanksgiving were a part of the Pilgrims religious ceremonies.
From the first Thanksgiving in 1621 until 1863 Thanksgiving was celebrated at various times of the year and in various ways. However, in 1863 during the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the last Thursday in the month November. This proclamation came after he received a letter from Sarah Hale who had started her letter writing campaign advocating for a national Thanksgiving Day in November of 1846. Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States.
The day of observance was changed from the last Thursday in November to the next-to-the last Thursday in November in 1939 while the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. During this time, it was inappropriate for retailers to advertise goods for Christmas before the Thanksgiving holiday. Therefore, President Franklin D. Roosevelt surmised that by giving merchants an extra week to sell products between Thanksgiving and Christmas profits would increase and this might help the country get out of the Depression, so he changed the week in which Thanksgiving was celebrated. This was not a mandatory declaration; therefore, some states observed the new date while others did not. In 1941, Congress cleared up the confusion by establishing the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.
While Thanksgiving has a varied and interesting history, one thing has remained the same: it is a time to be grateful for one’s blessings.