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Thanksgiving: History and Traditions

By Charis Hackman

Volume 3 Issue 2

December 23, 2022

Thanksgiving: History and Traditions

Image provided Getty Images

Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated by people all over the country. The holiday is observed on November 24. The holiday is based on the ideals of the original Thanksgiving, a harvest festival, that the pilgrims and settlers from England had with the Native Americans of the area, the Wampanoag in 1621, probably over 400 years ago. 


History Of Thanksgiving 

In 1620, Pilgrims came to the New World on the Mayflower, seeking religious and economic freedom. Their original destination was between Virginia and the Hudson River area in what is now the state of New York. But bad weather, like storms and rough waves, caused the ship to change course resulting in the boat arriving in the area near what is known as Cape Cod on November 11, 1620. But after failing to find open land to settle on, they ventured further to the Plymouth area in Massachusetts. But there were people already living in Massachusetts long before the pilgrims came. Native Americans like the Wampanoag have lived in the Massachusetts area for hundreds of years.   


The pilgrims arrived in Plymouth on December 16, 1620, and started building their colony there. But the Pilgrims were not prepared for the winter in the area, which was very different than the winter in England. As a result, many got sick with exposure, scurvy, and many other contagious diseases as well as malnutrition, as the seeds they brought from England would not grow in the soils of early America. The pilgrims did not know how to hunt and fish on the land, as it was different than the land in England which resulted in many deaths and only half of the pilgrims surviving that first winter in the New World.  


In March, the pilgrims were visited by a man named Samoset, who welcomed them. Later, he brought an English-speaking man named Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, who was the last of a native American tribe called the Pawtuet. He was kidnapped by a sea captain who had come to his people’s land years before and taken him to Europe. He later gained his freedom and traveled back to the Americas, where he learned that all of his people had died from the plague; then, he began living with the Wampanoag people.  


After he was introduced to the pilgrims, he decided to help them and teach them how to survive the American wilderness. He taught the pilgrims how to catch fish, cultivate corn, find berries and plants and to tell which ones were not poisonous. Around the same time, the pilgrims, with Squanto’s help, made an alliance with the Wampanoag which lasted for more than 50 years. By the time fall rolled around, the pilgrims were doing much better, thanks to the Wampanoag. To celebrate, the governor of the pilgrims, William Bradford, organized a feast. He invited the leader of Wampanoag, Chief Massasoit, and some of his people to join them in the celebration. It lasted for three whole days. They ate duck, deer, turkey, berries, corn, corn soup, seafood, and the vegetables they grew that year, like carrots and beans. 

Thanksgiving Traditions 

People in the United States each have their unique way of celebrating Thanksgiving. The most common is having a traditional dinner with friends and family, eating turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, collard greens, etc., and desserts like apple and pumpkin pie. But there are other ways to celebrate Thanksgiving than just eating dinner. 


One of the most popular is watching Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, established by Macy in 1924. The parade draws more than 3 million spectators and more than 27.4 million viewers as of last year. Macy’s Thanksgiving parade is an event in which giant balloons of characters from popular culture, like Charlie Brown, Blues Clues the dog, and Hello Kitty. The parade also includes performances from famous singers and performance groups like the Rockettes, with Santa and Ms. Claus arriving at the end of the parade. Another Thanksgiving tradition is watching football which was developed in 1876 when the IFA (Intercollegiate Football Association) started hosting their championship day on the holiday. However, it was not as popular then as it is now. On Thanksgiving Day, the NFL hosts three football games; this year consisted of the Cowboys and the Lions, per tradition, with the Bills, Giants, Patriots, and Vikings.   


Another tradition is breaking a wishbone, a forked bone found in most birds and some non-avian birds, which is thus found in the turkey. It is said that with a wishbone, two people make a wish on it, then break it, and the one with the most significant piece of the bone wins and gets their wish granted. Another more recent tradition is the celebration of Friendsgiving, a casual meal enjoyed by friends, specifically during Thanksgiving. Friends get together, eat meals, do puzzles, do a scavenger hunt, play games like Bingo, Jenga, Connect 4, UNO, Poker, or Headbands, decorate pumpkins, and watch movies. 

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