Thanksgiving: Yesteryears and Now

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Anumita tells us about the tradition of Thanksgiving, tracing its genesis. What began in the north of the US is a nationwide celebration. Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific writer and magazine editor also known for the nursery rhyme Mary had a Little Lamp, took upon herself to propagate a fixed date to celebrate Thanksgiving all over the United States. Her hard work for almost four decades, fructified when Abraham Lincoln, in midst of the Civil War, proclaimed that Thanksgiving become a national holiday and be celebrated, on the last Thursday, in the month of November, every year. She also tells us about Thanksgiving, in different parts of the world, that’s celebrated at various times. Here’s her interesting and illuminating narrative on the festivity, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Traditions grow and change with time. Some aspects get added, while some others are lost. History proves one thing that traditions will live, grow and thrive in new forms in ages to come. When the year rolls towards its end, the month of November brings in the anticipations of the winter to come. The cold season starts with festivity, love, family and friend. What else do we need to be thankful for, other than that?

Thanksgiving is such a celebration on the last Thursday of the November.

This celebration did change forms and dates since its genesis.

In the year 1620, the ship Mayflower, brought in 102 passengers as settlers (also known as the Pilgrims) in the New World and they anchored at the tip of Cape Cod. After their first winter aboard only half of them survived crossed the Hudson Bay and made their way to land to find a way of living. This was called the village of Plymouth. With a stroke of luck they were greeted by an English speaking Pawtuxet Indian, named Squanto. He had escaped from being captured and lived in England for some time. Squanto helped the settlers in the way of life on the New Land. He taught them to fish, hunt and grow corn. He interfaced the pilgrims with the Wampanoag tribe, a long lasting Indian tribe.

Next year, when the bounty was good, the governor arranged a gathering for Thanksgiving with some fledgling colonies and the friendly Indian tribes including the Wampanoag. The feat did not include turkey, as the records show of hunting five deer. It was a three-day celebration with food, entertainment and hunting. There were no desserts as the supply of sugar was dwindling. Most of the food was prepared with the Indian spices and in their way, as the Pilgrims did not have ovens or their own supplies. According to history, this was the first Thanksgiving celebration.

There was a gap in the subsequent year and the celebration of Thanksgiving took more of a religious colour in later years. The dates and reasons for celebrating Thanksgiving changed from colony to colony. In the year 1789, George Washington proclaimed a date to celebrate the Independence and the success of the Constitution. His successors designated dates for offering thanks for different reasons. While the north celebrated this holiday and festivity the south largely remained obscure to this tradition.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific writer and magazine editor also known for the nursery rhyme Mary had a Little Lamp, took upon herself to propagate a fixed date to celebrate Thanksgiving  all over the United States. Her hard work for almost four decades, fructified when Abraham Lincoln, in midst of the Civil War, proclaimed that Thanksgiving become a national holiday and be celebrated, on the last Thursday, in the month of November, every year. Although Franklin Roosevelt did change the date to a week earlier to facilitate the pre-holiday sales, but severe opposition for the change compelled him to revert back to the original set date.

Fast forwarding to this date, Thanksgiving is synonymous to turkey. The bird occupies the center of the table spread. The Turkey Foundation states that almost 90% of the American consume this bird during the celebration of Thanksgiving, either roasted, baked, grilled or fried. Foods like mash potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing and pumpkin pie are the staple part of the menu.  Although most of these items were not found in the original Thanksgiving feast, of the Pilgrims and the Indians, it is very popular today.

Parades are very integral part of Thanksgiving Day. Since 1924, the departmental store of Macy’s, have their grand parade in New York. Each year, it has become a very sought after show. People from near and far brave the cold and line up along the streets to watch the huge floats, dancers, performers and gigantic balloons of different cartoon characters. The entire parade is televised across the country and it draws millions of spectators.

A special fact, which puts a smile on some lucky turkeys is the pardoning of some lucky turkey from being slaughtered and send over to live in retirement at a farm by the President. Since the mid 20’s this annual turkey ritual has been enacted.

The celebration of being together with family and friends with good food is followed by the shopping. BlackFridaySaleGraphicThe next day is the biggest day for entire America to shop as retailers have a huge sale. This Friday is called the Black Friday. The stores open early and boost the economy by kick-starting the holiday shopping. Crowds of people line up and dash through the lanes of the stores to grab the fantastic deals. It is a mad rush at some places. Ultimately, the smiles and happiness of being able to bag the best deal makes all that early rising and run around in the cold is justified.

The celebration with friends and family to be thankful for all the blessings they have in their life is not unique in only one country or culture. It has its different ways of celebrating during all the days of the calendar around the world:

  • Sukkot is a Biblical holiday celebrated by Jewish people of Israel during the late September and October.
  • Jour de l’Action de Grâce is the Thanksgiving in Canada, on the second Monday of October.
  • Chuseok in Korea, a three-day harvest festival, celebrated on the 15 th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar.
  • Tết Trung Thru in Vietnam is celebrated during mid-September or early October, is also known as Children’s festival.
  • London Harvest Festival during the month of October, celebrating the ‘green thumb’ and harvest.
  • Homowo Festival of Ghana starts in May during planting of the crops to celebrate the overcoming of the famine.
  • Erntedankfest of Germany, celebrate harvest time on the first Sunday in October, even though it is not an official holiday.
  • August Moon Festival in China celebrates harvest on the full moon day. It is said to be a century old festivity.
  • Pongal/ Shrankanti/Khichri (many more names) is celebrated in different states of India during the mid of January. The end of winter and the new rice harvest is celebrated all over the country in different names.
  • Crop Over is celebrated in Barbados. It is a three months celebration from June to the first Monday of August filled with carnivals, music, dance and drinking.

There is always a reason to be thankful. Celebrating such a feeling keeps hope alive.

Happy Thanksgiving!

©Anumita Chatterjee Roy

Photos from the Internet.

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Anumita Chatterjee Roy is an artist at heart. She has an eye for the unusual. Her naturescapes make her the quintessential Romantic. She paints, is passionate about photography, creates word images in her verses and loves to write. She cooks delicacies and is a foodie. Born in India, she was brought up in several countries. These strengthened the global citizen in her. She now lives in the Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and two sons.