As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, it’s worth reminding ourselves of its origins. The very first Thanksgiving took place in 1621. It was a celebration of the pilgrims’ first successful harvest since arriving in America. Historians tell us that the the first Thanksgiving was actually a three day festival. As a result of the successful harvest of maize (corn), the pilgrims invited their Native Americans friends to join them in celebration. It’s said that during those three days, the Native Americans hunted deer and provided venison as part of their contribution for the feast.
This original 3-day festival was considered a one-time event. The pilgrims didn’t have any intentions of making it an annual tradition. However, Thanksgiving became a holiday on Thursday November 26, 1789. George Washington declared that day to be a national Thanksgiving holiday commemorating the original event. Though it was celebrated on that day in 1789, it wasn’t an annual holiday or family tradition. It wasn’t until many years later in the 1820’s when Sara Josepha Hale (known for authoring Mary Had a Little Lamb) took it upon herself to petition to have Thanksgiving celebrated nationally as an annual holiday. Rumor has it, she spent upwards of thirty years doing this, where she shared recipes of what would then become traditional menu items (pumpkin pie, turkey, and stuffing). In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be an annual holiday on the last Thursday in November.
Today we continue that tradition, but aren’t necessarily aware of how it came to be. Our tradition has become one of feasting on the traditional menu items and watching football. Thanksgiving is often seen as the springboard into the Christmas season. Let’s pause to remember those brave pilgrims who risked everything to come to America and rid themselves of religious persecution. More than half of those who made the trip to America didn’t survive to see the first Thanksgiving festival. Those who did were thankful to God for their good fortune. It was that successful harvest which encouraged them to stay in America and not return home.
Today we are thankful for the fortitude and faith of those pilgrims. They paved the path to what would become the greatest nation on earth. We are appreciative of all of the good fortunes we share today because of their sacrifice.