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THE HISTORY OF THANKSGIVING
If you are visiting Orlando in late November, you will undoubtedly experience Thanksgiving during your stay. Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays in the USA, and it occurs on the fourth Thursday of November every year. It is a little like our own Harvest Festival, although it is considered to be secular, or non-sectarian, but it has a history which goes back to the Pilgrim Fathers. It supposedly began when the English settlers of Plymouth, Massachusetts were helped by the native American Indians, following a terrible winter. It is an annual federal holiday and offers the opportunity to express thanks for material and spiritual possessions. It is also a time for families to gather together and celebrate with a special Thanksgiving meal.
There are some disagreements about when, and where, the first Thanksgiving celebration actually took place, but the earliest recorded celebration is believed to have taken place on September 8th, 1565 in St Augustine, Florida. Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed here with 600 Spanish settlers and gave thanks for their safe deliverance, holding a Mass to celebrate their arrival in the New World. This was followed by a feast. However, this colony was not actually part of the United States at the time.
Another Thanksgiving took place in El Paso, Texas, when the Spaniard Don Juan de Onate ordered his expedition party to rest and he then conducted a mass, in celebration of thanksgiving on April 30th, 1598.
However, in 1621, the first traditional Thanksgiving took place at the site of the Plymouth Plantation. On December 4th, 1619, thirty eight English settlers arrived at Berkley Hundred on the north bank of the James River. This was about 20 miles from Jamestown, which was the site of the first permanent settlement of the colony of Virginia, which had been established in 1607. It was decreed that the day of their arrival would be observed as a day of thanksgiving to God, and the Charter of Berkley Hundred states,
' We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God. ”
The Berkley Plantation is still the site for the annual Thanksgiving service, and President Bush gave his official Thanksgiving address here in 2007, when he said:
“In the four centuries since the founders of Berkeley first knelt on these grounds, our nation has changed in many ways. Our people have prospered, our nation has grown, our Thanksgiving traditions have evolved -- after all, they didn' t have football back then. Yet the source of all our blessings remains the same: We give thanks to the Author of Life who granted our forefathers safe passage to this land, who gives every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth the gift of freedom, and who watches over our nation every day. ”
The Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts also faced many difficulties during their first winter, as there was a lack of food as well as little suitable shelter. They received much assistance from an Indian, called Squanto, who had been captured by a British slave trader, in 1614, and sold into slavery in Malaga, Spain. During his captivity he learned to speak English and finally escaped and made his way back to his village, Patuxet. Sadly, he discovered that his tribe had all died from the plague. He taught the colonists how to farm corn, how to find and catch fish, as well as numerous other skills. Without him, the colony would not have survived the first two years.
Following a successful and plentiful harvest in the Autumn of 1621, Squanto, together with the Pilgrims, gathered together to celebrate their deliverance from famine. This is still celebrated annually in Plymouth, with a parade and a re-enactment.
Individual colonies continued to observe days of thanksgiving during the 18th century, but they were not marked by feasting, but rather by prayer and fasting. It was George Washington, who in 1789, as President, created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the USA, when he proclaimed that
‘Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. ’
But Thanksgiving Day was not regularly celebrated throughout the United States. President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863, and since then, it has been observed annually in the US, as all presidents who succeeded him followed his example.
In 1939, President Franklin D Roosevelt decided that, as November that year had five Thursdays, it should be the fourth, not the fifth Thursday that year. The following year he declared the third one as Thanksgiving. He decided on this because he felt that, whilst still in the middle of the Great Depression, it would give shopkeepers longer to sell Christmas merchandise, thus increasing profits and spending. This was because it was felt inappropriate to sell or advertise Christmas goods before Thanksgiving. However, it was not legally binding, so many states did not adhere to the dates.
It was not until 1941 that the US Congress finally made Thanksgiving a Federal Holiday, to be observed on the fourth Thursday of November, and President Roosevelt signed the bill on December 26th.
Future Thanksgiving Days are as follows:
- Thursday, November 26, 2009
- Thursday, November 25, 2010
- Thursday, November 24, 2011
- Thursday, November 22, 2012
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