What is Thanksgiving?

As the clock strikes midnight on Halloween, everything changes.Posted Nov. 25, 2013

 by Breanna Kaitfors

Adams County Record

As the clock strikes midnight on Halloween, everything changes. Stores rotate their stock from black and orange to green and red before customers even have a chance to know what’s happening. Christmas spirit descends and everyone instantly seems to become more cheery and neighborly. A holiday that often gets over looked in the seasonal shift is Thanksgiving.

There aren’t many people in the U.S. who decorate for Thanksgiving. There’s no candy receiving or gift giving. Instead, families gather around a table and give thanks for everything they have. Turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie fill everyone to their limits. Perhaps after dinner, everyone takes to the living room for an afternoon full of football and naps. That’s it, end of Holiday.

So what exactly is the point of Thanksgiving?

In school, children learn of the Mayflower, a ship that carried passengers from England to the New World in September of 1620. Many of the passengers longed for religious freedom and the fresh start moving across the ocean would bring. The passengers, better known as Pilgrims, landed after 66 days at sea and began making their new home.

It was a brutal winter for the Pilgrims. Many fell ill with scurvy and outbreaks of contagious diseases. The exposure to winter was taking its toll. Only half of the original Pilgrims lived to see spring.

Spring brought many opportunities for the Pilgrims to learn about the New World. They met a group of Native Americans who taught them how to cultivate corn, catch fish, tap trees for sap and avoid poisonous plants.

When November rolled around and it was time for the Pilgrims to harvest their first crop, they were extremely pleased with how bountiful it had become. The Governor organized a celebratory feast, inviting both Pilgrims and the Native Americans who had helped them greatly throughout the year. The festival now known as “America’s First Thanksgiving” lasted three days.

The next Thanksgiving celebration the Pilgrims held wasn’t until two years after their first. They had suffered a long drought and worried their harvest wouldn’t make it. The Governor called for a religious fast. Soon after, religious fasts followed by Thanksgiving celebrations became a regular thing.

It wasn’t until 1789 when George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation. In his address, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the American Revolution in addition to celebrating their newfound independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

Still, Thanksgiving wasn’t an official, annual holiday in the United States. New York was the first to adopt the tradition and many other states followed, however there wasn’t a set date and every state seemed to celebrate the holiday on different dates.

It took noted magazine editor and prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale 36 years to catch the attention of Abraham Lincoln. At the height of the Civil War, he scheduled Thanksgiving for all states to take place on the final Thursday in November.

It was celebrated as such until 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to boost the economy during the Great Depression. There was much opposition to changing the date of a National Holiday, however in 1941, the president signed a bill making the Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

The traditions have changed greatly throughout time. Today, Thanksgiving holds little religious significance. It centers more on cooking and sharing the feast with family and friends. Thanksgiving doesn’t seem like Thanksgiving without a turkey, however many historians aren’t so sure turkey wasn’t on the menu in original Thanksgiving celebrations.

Parades are a huge part of Thanksgiving in many cities in the United States. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the most famous, bringing in anywhere between 2 and 3 million live viewers on its 2.5-mile route and an enormous TV audience.

In addition, the president of the United States has often “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year to save them from being butchered. Instead, they’re sent to a Turkey farm where they are allowed to enjoy their retirement.

Times have definitely changed. This Thanksgiving, take a moment to remember the Pilgrims, who started from scratch and built a nation. Celebrate the hardships and the successes they had and everyone who now lives in the nation continue to have. Remember where the tradition began in hopes of keeping it going for many years to come.