Thanksgiving’s Beginnings


Matthew Nyman, Editor-in-Chief

Thanksgiving is a United States holiday that began as a feast enjoyed by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Native Americans to celebrate the successful fall harvest in 1621. When the United States became a country, Thanksgiving was celebrated on different dates by different states, but in 1863 it became a national holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

After the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, the Plymouth colonists faced their first winter in the New World. Only half of the colonists survived the harsh winter, and these colonists still lacked the skills they needed to survive on the unfamiliar continent. Thankfully, the Native Americans decided to help the colonists by teaching them how to grow corn, catch fish, get sap from trees, and identify poisonous plants. To celebrate the success of their first corn harvest in November, the colonists held a three-day feast and invited the Native Americans as a way to thank them for their help. This feast is now known as the first Thanksgiving. While historians do not know for sure what foods were served at the first Thanksgiving, it is believed that fish, shellfish, lobster, seal, venison, and swans were eaten at the feast. However, the colonists had neither an oven nor enough sugar to make the pies, cakes, and other desserts that are often served at modern Thanksgiving meals. It is not known whether or not turkey was served at the first Thanksgiving.

Days of thanksgiving to celebrate good fortune were held a few times each year in the colonies both before and after their independence. In 1817, New York officially adopted an annual Thanksgiving holiday. Other states adopted their own Thanksgiving celebrations soon afterward, but each state had a different date for the holiday until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln established the national holiday of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.

Despite the long way Thanksgiving has come, the core meaning of the first Thanksgiving remains at the center of the holiday even now. Today, Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to share a festive meal and to reflect on and appreciate the things they are thankful for.