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What is Thanksgiving Really?

Updated on July 4, 2011
Public Domain Image
Public Domain Image

Thanksgiving is the one holiday that EVERYONE celebrates in some way or form - at least in the United States. Thanksgiving seems to be the holiday without any ties to religion or faith but how did Thanksgiving come to be?

by Jennie Branscombe
by Jennie Branscombe

The First Thanksgiving

It is said that in 1619, before the first 'official' Thanksgiving, Captain John Woodlief knelt to pray and give public thanks (in front of the other British settlers) to God for giving them travelling mercies and a safe arrival in the Americas.

The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest. This was a sign of cooperation between the English and the Native Americans. For years, Native Americans had been celebrating the harvest and during that time, they were used to giving thanks - by way of festivals and ceremonial dances - for crops.

In 1863, there was a declaration of Thanksgiving - that it be celebrated annually in November.

Public Domain Image
Public Domain Image

Other 'Thanksgiving' Celebrations - In Greece

In the festival of Thesmosphoria (held every autumn) the Greeks of the ancient world honoured Demeter, the goddess of grains. Each day of the festival was celebrated in a different manner:

Day 1: The married women built leafy shelters and made furniture out of plants.

Day 2: The married women fasted.

Day 3: Offerings of seed corn, cakes, fruit and pig was given to the goddess Demeter and a huge feast was held in her honour.

Roman Goddess Ceres (Public Domain Image)
Roman Goddess Ceres (Public Domain Image)

In Rome

Like the Greek, the Romans honoured their Goddess of grains, Ceres, in the autumn season. Their festival was called Cerelia and occurred during the 4th day of October every year. The Romans gave the first fruits as well as a pig sacrifice to Ceres and during their celebration, there were parades, sports, music and a thanksgiving feast.

Chinese Moon Cakes (Public Domain Image)
Chinese Moon Cakes (Public Domain Image)

In China

The festival of Chung Ch'ui was celebrated in ancient China when the full moon fell on the 15th day of the 8th month. On that day, the Chinese baked moon cakes to honour the 'birthday' of the moon. 

There was a feast held featuring roasted pig, moon cakes and fruits. the Ancient Chinese believed that flowers would fall from the moon on the 3rd day of the festival. It was said that whoever witnessed the falling flowers would have good luck.

Chung Ch'ui was also for the purpose of giving thanks for China's victory over their enemies. Moon cakes that were once distributed contained hidden messages that revealed the time for attack, so when the invaders came the families were prepared.

In Egypt

The festival of Min - the god of vegetation and fertility - was held in the springtime (their season for harvest). A parade and a great feast was held during the festival and the Pharaoh often participated. An interesting fact: while the Egyptians harvested corn, they cried, pretending to be in mourning to deceive a spirit believed to dwell in the corn. The spirit was said to become angry when farmers cut down the corn.

Thanksgiving cornucopia (Public Domain image)
Thanksgiving cornucopia (Public Domain image)

In Canada

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October in Canada. Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest in their country. In old Europe, farmers gathered to toast a successful harvest and in 1957, Canada adopted this tradition.

The Canadian Thanksgiving meal is similar to the American Thanksgiving meal. Turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes are served as well as a cornucopia placed in the center of the table. Still, the overall celebration in Canada is not as huge as in America. In America, Thanksgiving is the largest occasion of the year.

Public Domain Image
Public Domain Image

In America Today

As previously mentioned, Thanksgiving is the year's largest holiday in the United States - even larger than Christmas. Families and friends travel far and wide to gather in each other's company for the Thanksgiving weekend.

The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday and is one of the largest shopping holidays - if not THE largest - in America. It is equivalent to Boxing Day in other countries such as Canada and England.

Some people go as far as dressing the part for their Thanksgiving feasts; dressing as pilgrims, English settlers or Native Americans. Most of all, people gain weight during the Thanksgiving feasts, stuffing their faces with delicious turkey and mashed potato. Just thinking about it is making me hungry.

I hope you've enjoyed reading and possibly learned something new. Thanks for reading!


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    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Thank you dueryu and ediann for your comments.

      Ediann, this was a fun topic to research. I should find time to work on that writing, shouldn't I? :) Thanks again!

    • ediann profile image


      6 years ago

      thank you for sharing your insight and for providing some facts about thanksgiving in the us and similar celebrations in other parts of the world. nicely written. i look forward to reading about your writings on music and music therapies as my son is autistic and you expressed your interest in my writing on music and autism. thank you and best wishes!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      i like your web site

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Thank you very much, sundeep. I'm glad you liked it. I liked writing this Hub. It was actually fun. :) Sure, I'll check out your Hub.

    • sudeep13582 profile image


      8 years ago from Howrah

      I didn't really know about thatn thanks giving festival.. I had to keep track with this event though for my site.. coz its a site for greetings for different festivals including thanks giving..

      but now I had a little time to read about this... while browsing through hubs and now I get it finally..

      nice writing.. very clean and good way to write...

      anyway.. if you wanna look at my friendship day hub...

      here it is

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      WOW marvalous! You sure read a lot of my Hubs today. Thanks for that! Yes, I love how thanksgiving is celebrated in our country!

    • marvalousnj profile image


      8 years ago from Central Jersey USA

      Kalto, thanks for the info. In my country, thanksgiving is celebrated as a harvest. Where eating isn't our priority but reaping and sharing is. However, its celebrated its a time to give thanks for our provisions.

      Great hub.

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Thank YOU for your comment, Wendy!

    • Wendy Krick profile image

      Wendy Krick 

      8 years ago from Maryland

      This is all great information about Thanksgiving. Thank you.

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Hello, Maita. Thanks! I'm happy you can learn something new from my Hub.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      8 years ago from US

      Hi, these are good information, stuff I don't know, yeah Thanksgiving is here soon and this hub is just right! Thanks, Maita

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      What an idea! That WILL be fun, CM! You're so right about everyday being thanksgiving though. The actuall thanksgiving day should just be a reminder. I enjoyed your comment. Thanks!

    • CMCastro profile image

      Christina M. Castro 

      8 years ago from Baltimore,MD USA

      How much fun if we could bring all the Thanksgiving traditions into one big feast. Can you imagine the hostess of the party saying, "Would you care for pumpkin pie or moon cakes for desert?" Actually, to me, everyday is Thanksgiving Day!" :o)

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Thank you for commenting, Indian Blues! :-)

      Hell, Ms. Audrey, RIGHT NOW I prefer turkey. Tomorrow I'll probably prefer mooncakes. It's good you found the other customs interesting though. I think so too.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      8 years ago from Washington

      Great information and lovely pictures! I think I prefer the turkey as well but it is interesting to learn more about other customs always!

    • theindianblues profile image


      8 years ago from Some where on the Globe

      Nice one, I learned about it. Thanks for sharing!

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Hey, Dr. BJ. I haven't seen you in a while. Thanks for commenting!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Hi, Kim. You have created a very interesting hub about Thanksgiving with many new details and explanations. Thank you.

    • kaltopsyd profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Hi Fred. I think I'll have to agree with Mentalist. I'll prefer the moon cakes. But then again, it depends on my mood. I may like the turkey. Haha. Thank you both for commenting!

      Hi, Tina. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice job, I enjoyed reading it

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      8 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      I'd rather the Mooncakes,haha...I'm not a big turkey eater;)Thanks for thy harvest preperation kaltopsyd;)

    • fred allen profile image

      fred allen 

      8 years ago from Myrtle Beach SC

      I much prefer the turkey to the chinese moon cakes!


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