The story of Thanksgiving starts in 1621, with the Pilgrims, who had sailed on the Mayflower from England to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Following a harsh, deadly winter, the Pilgrims had a successful harvest, thanks to the help of the Wampanoag people who taught them farming techniques suitable for the New England climate. To celebrate this harvest, a three-day feast was organized which is widely regarded as the first Thanksgiving.
The practice of Thanksgiving was not annual initially and was celebrated intermittently until the 19th century. In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November. The intention was to foster a sense of unity and to soothe the nation’s wounds. This decree solidified Thanksgiving as a national tradition that we continue to observe today.
The Turkey Tradition
The star of the Thanksgiving table is undoubtedly the turkey. But why turkey, you ask? Well, it’s believed that wild turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving feast. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that turkey became the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman who persuaded Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, was an ardent advocate of turkey being the main dish because it was a large bird that could feed a lot of people, and it didn’t serve a utilitarian purpose like laying eggs or producing milk like chickens or cows.
The Parade Phenomenon
The Thanksgiving Day Parade is another beloved tradition, with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade being the most famous. It started in 1924, with Macy’s employees marching from 145th street in New York to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street, dressed in vibrant costumes. The parade included floats, professional bands, and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. It was such a success that Macy’s declared it would become an annual event.
Pardoning of the Turkey
The Presidential pardon of a turkey is a modern tradition that adds a light-hearted touch to the holiday. The origin of this custom is a bit murky. Some sources trace it back to President Lincoln in 1863 when his son Tad begged him to spare the life of a turkey that was destined for the Christmas dinner table. However, the formal ceremony of pardoning the turkey didn’t become a regular occurrence until 1989, under President George H.W. Bush.
Thanksgiving is a celebration of resilience, unity, and gratitude that brings together families and communities.It isn’t just about the turkey or the parade; it’s about expressing gratitude and celebrating the bounties of life. Happy Thanksgiving!