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Happy Thanksgiving!

Family or friends praying holding hands at Thanksgiving celebration table
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Today is Thanksgiving Day!  As you recline on the couch, digesting your feast, kick back and enjoy this blog all about Thanksgiving.

History

In the United States, Thanksgiving is always the fourth Thursday in November, and this year that is November 25.  (The United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Japan also celebrate similar holidays about being grateful; Canadian Thanksgiving is in October.)  Thanksgiving has been an important American tradition since even before we became a country.  And it all started with the first English settlers centuries ago.

In September 1620, a group of people left England for America, seeking religious freedom to worship God and practice their faith as they wanted.  These Pilgrims sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in the ship the Mayflower.  After 66 rough days at sea, they landed and settled in what would eventually be called Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Their first winter was especially cold and harsh, and the Pilgrims didn’t have enough food.  They suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious diseases.  Many of them died.

Come spring, the neighboring Abeneki tribe greeted them and introduced them to an English-speaking man named Squanto (of the Pawtuxet tribe), who taught the Pilgrims to fish and hunt, what plants were safe to eat, how to enrich the soil for crops, and how to plant corn.  By the fall of 1691, the Pilgrims had a bountiful harvest.  They wanted to give thanks to God for his provision, to show gratitude that they were still alive, and to thank their friends and allies, the neighboring Wampanoag tribe, for their help.  So they threw a big feast consisting of corn, venison, fowl, and pumpkin; they played games and offered prayers and songs of praise.  This celebration, the First Thanksgiving, lasted for three days.

Thanksgiving quickly became a popular American tradition.  However, in the early days of the country, Thanksgiving was observed on different dates by each of the states.  The customary date for most was the “last Thursday in November.”  So in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day as the final Thursday in November for all states, “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”  It was altered in 1939: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a presidential proclamation changing the holiday to the “next to last Thursday in November.”  Two years later in 1941, he changed it to the “fourth Thursday in November,” and it became a legal holiday.  And it has been celebrated as such since then.

Traditions

Thanksgiving remains a celebration of blessings and harvest, and reminds us of all we have to be thankful for.  With schools and businesses closed, we have the whole day to gather together with family and friends, to celebrate and to feast.  It’s a time to share what we have, including a feast of our own bountiful harvest (similar to what the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared)!  Favorite (and traditional) Thanksgiving foods include: turkey (we eat about 46 million of them on Thanksgiving Day, according to the National Turkey Federation), stuffing/dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries, sweet potatoes, beans, squash, and pumpkin pie.  Often before the meal, someone will say grace and everyone will share what they are thankful for, or have been thankful for in the past year.

Activities

Besides gathering together and eating, other fun activities to do on Thanksgiving include:

  • Decorating using things gathered to look like harvest: pumpkins, turkeys, fall leaves, corn stalks, and crafts like “hand turkeys”!
  • Watching parades. This year is the 95th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.  This parade contains floats, giant character balloons and bands (you might even see someone you know playing trumpet on live TV… a memory they will never forget and will bring up every subsequent Thanksgiving).
  • Playing games or watching NFL football on TV.
  • Attending church services and praying and giving thanks to the Lord.
  • Watching plays about the First Thanksgiving.
  • Helping others, especially by donating food and/or volunteering time to help the needy.
  • Shopping.  Although a bit controversial, many stores now open the evening of Thanksgiving Day (usually offering good sales) so people can get a jump on their Christmas and holiday shopping.  The day after Thanksgiving is colloquially known as Black Friday (when stores go from “red” to “black,” meaning they’re making a profit), followed by Small Business Saturday, and then Cyber Monday.

One might say that Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year!  Since there is no exchanging of gifts or even much decorating, the commercialism is kept to a minimum.  It reminds you of the simple, yet most important things in life: family, good food, and being grateful for your blessings.  And the only thing required of you is to sit down and feast!

For more details about Thanksgiving:

History.com: Thanksgiving 2021

Britannica.com: Thanksgiving Day

Books about Thanksgiving Day from the library catalog

Kelly

Kelly is a librarian at the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. As the Adult Programming Specialist, her focus is bringing adults the library programs they love.  (Kids can’t have ALL the fun!).  She reads strictly nonfiction and picture books.  She believes that anything you could ever need or want is located somewhere in the library.  Including friends.