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Interesting Thanksgiving Day Facts
Most people know basics of the history that led up to the celebration of the first Thanksgiving Day. For instance, it's common knowledge that the pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower back in 1620, shared in the first Thanksgiving with the Native Americans. Beyond that, you may be surprised to learn that not everyone agrees when the first Thanksgiving was celebrated or even where it was celebrated.
Pilgrims of the Mayflower
When the Mayflower left Europe, she carried 102 passengers including crew. The one thing all these people had in common is that they were ready for a new start. Some were Christians who wanted to live in a place where they could practice their faith in freedom. Others escaped economic hardship and hoped to make their fortune in the New World. The arduous journey lasted longer than 2 months and when they finally arrived, they landed close to the tip of Cape Cod at the site of what today is Provincetown. This point was north of their planned destination. It took them a month to reach Plymouth Rock where the pilgrims established the village of Plymouth.
The pilgrims reached the New World in November of 1620. Winter set in and the harsh weather killed about half of the pilgrims before spring. In March the survivors were met by an English-speaking Native American who introduced them to another Native American named Squanto. He taught the pilgrims how to survive, and was instrumental in helping the pilgrims form an alliance with the local Native Americans.
Interesting Thanksgiving Day Facts
Thanksgiving Day wasn't something new. We often think of the first Thanksgiving as the start of a new tradition. In some ways it was; in others it was not. Consider these interesting Thanksgiving Day facts:
- While in England (and Holland), many of the pilgrims celebrated an autumn harvest festival (this was not a religious celebration).
- The Puritans celebrated a holy day of Thanksgiving and praise (a religious observance).
One of these traditions was secular and the other religious. They were held at different times and were in no way connected. During the harvest festival a prayer of thanksgiving was offered, because the people recognized God's provision, but in that culture this was not considered religious; it was a way of life. The 1621 autumn celebration planned by Governor William Bradford was secular in nature and lasted for three days. The Governor invited some of their Native American friends to join them, and this autumn festival gathering is what most people consider the "first Thanksgiving."
The first "religious" Thanksgiving was held in 1623 after much-needed rain ended a long drought and saved the crops. This time Governor Bradford planned a more religious celebration and asked the people to fast and give thanks.
- During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress Washington issued a proclamation to celebrate Thanksgiving in gratitude for the outcome of the war of independence and the surrender of British Major Gen. John Burgoyne, at Saratoga on October 17, 1777.
- George Washington declared Thursday, February 19th, a National Day of Thanksgiving and proclaimed that it is "[…] our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God […].
- The first state to adopt Thanksgiving Day in autumn as an annual holiday was New York (1817).
- Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in November on different days in different states, and some states didn't celebrate it at all.
- Abraham Lincoln set the day for Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November in 1863
- Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to a week earlier during the Great Depression in an effort to boost sales revenues.
- Roosevelt signed a bill in 1941 declaring Thanksgiving to be the fourth Thursday in November.
Today's Thanksgiving Celebration
Some historians disagree as to which historic Thanksgiving celebration counts as the first, and today Americans celebrate Thanksgiving in a number of different ways. For many, it is still a time of thanksgiving for God's provision. For others, it is a day to eat turkey (90 percent of people eat turkey on Thanksgiving) and all the trimmings. Both secular and religious celebrations are a time for gathering with family, friends, good food, and to take time to be thankful. Instead of debating who celebrated Thanksgiving first, let us focus on the practice of thanksgiving...the act of being thankful just like the pilgrims in those historical settings.