Brief History of Thanksgiving and My List of Gratitude

One of the things on my fall bucket list was to read up on the history of Thanksgiving.  We learned about it in school as children, but as time goes by, we forget some of the details.  So I read up on the 1621 harvest feast.

Thanksgiving as we know it today is a compilation of many different traditions that have been around for centuries.  What we think of as the “first Thanksgiving” is actually far from it.  There have been harvest festivals to give thanks all over the world!

  • Greeks: harvest festivals at the Shrines of Demeter
  • Romans: giving thanks to Ceres with parades, dances, feasts
  • Hebrews in Canaan:  Feast of Booths
  • European Christians: prayers to bless crops and harvest
  • Egyptians: sacrificed to the gods of the Nile in thanksgiving
  • Mayans: harvest festival feast of corn and turkey
  • Chinese: Chung Ch’ui with moon cakes to honor the moon’s role
  • Bulgarian: parade of the corn queen and drowning of the last stalk
  • US Virgin Islands: hurricane thanksgiving for surviving the season
  • Wampanoags: Green Corn Festival, a week long harvest festival

If the first Thanksgiving wasn’t actually the first thanksgiving, what was it?

To provide some back story, the Pilgrims were not the first to come to the land of the Wampanoag tribe.  English explores had captured some natives, including Tisquantum, who we know more commonly as Squanto.  Because of this, he was able to learn English and later act as an interpreter for the Pilgrims. The Wampanoag people had their own language, Wôpanâak, so this was really important.

Fun fact: The Wampanoag language strings sounds to form words which translate to English sentences.  It is said to sound like a rippling brook.  Keepunumuk is their word for the time of harvest.  Wampanoag means people of the light/ people of the first light/ people of the east because they were the first tribe to start each new day.  

Between 1616 and 1618, a plague wiped out may of the natives and Patuxet, or what we know as New Plymouth, was abandoned.

The Pilgrims, although they weren’t called this at the time, arrived to America in September of 1620.  When they arrived they explored, found food (that belonged to the Wampanoag people), and set up their colony.  The natives viewed the English as disrespectful thieves.  Despite this, the Pilgrims had a rough winter with cold weather and not enough food; many people did not survive until spring.

In the spring of 1621, the Pilgrims that survived the winter met Squanto and Samoset and the Wampanoag tribe who shared plants and helped teach them how to grow and harvest crops.  In October of 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their plentiful harvest joined by the Wampanoag tribe.  The natives contributed deer to the feast, and the celebration lasted three days filled with food, games, and entertainment.  This Thanksgiving was a festive and noisy party.  It wasn’t considered a holy day nor was it intended to become a tradition.  It was simply another harvest festival, a celebration and day of thanks for their success.  This feast between the Pilgrims and Natives lead to a peace treaty that lasted for over 50 years!

As time went by, more colonists arrived in America and more colonies were established.  There were festivals throughout the year in thanksgiving for various occasions.  This population growth ended up destroying the peace treaty with the Wampanoag people.  Native Americans do not celebrate American Thanksgiving because they see it as a symbol of the settlers stealing their land.

The idea of thanksgiving changed throughout the years to be a holy day of prayer and fasting or to be a more traditional family meal like it is today.  Here are a few key years for the progression of thanksgiving to the holiday we know it as today.

  • 1783: Americans had a day of thanksgiving for their winning of the Revolutionary War.
  • Nov. 26, 1789: George Washington proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for the constitution
  • Mid 1800s: Sarah Josepha Hale suggested a national day of thanksgiving
  • 1863: After the end of the Civil War, Lincoln declares the Last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day, it officially becomes an annual holiday.

Fun fact: Lincoln also proposed a day of thanksgiving in August to honor the Battle of Gettysburg.  

  • 1879: Canada had first official Thanksgiving in November
  • 1957: Canada changed Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the second Monday of October

Thanksgiving has now become a day of feasting, football, parades, church, and sharing.  It’s a time of being grateful.  Decorating with all the autumnal colors [orange, brown, yellow] and things [pumpkins, corn, cornucopia].

Fun fact: Cornucopias or horns of plenty are an ancient symbol of harvest.  

It’s a time to enjoy time spent with family, emulating the feast of long ago in 1621 between the Pilgrims and Wampanoags.

I hope you all enjoy your turkey and stuffing, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and rolls.  But most importantly I hope you all take an extra moment to be filled with gratitude for the life you have and the advantages you have.

Fun fact: the wild turkey was found exclusively in North America so Ben Franklin wanted it to be our country’s bird instead of the Bald Eagle.


10 Reasons to Give Thanks 

  1. My health.  I am alive and well.  I just received a positive progress report from my chiropractor that my body is holding the adjustments and my posture has improved!
  2. My family and friends and their health.  I don’t know what I would do without all of my loving support system.  I am beyond grateful that they are all in good health.
  3. Jesus and his magnificent plan for me.  Lately, I have been noticing common themes in what I have been reading and learning spiritually.  I know that Jesus is there and guiding me to live loved and love and trust Him fully first.
  4. Clarity and direction for next year.   As I wrote about the other day, I’m moving home when my lease ends here.  It’s not what I was originally expecting, but I know that God is guiding me back there.
  5. A roof over my head.  It’s something that can easily be overlooked, but I am exceedingly blessed to have a roof over my head as the days get colder and darker.  I have care packages in my car for anyone I see that is not fortunate enough to have a shelter of their own this fall and coming winter.
  6. An online class that I’m taking for myself.  I know it might seem hard to comprehend, but I love school.  I love learning and I love the structure it provides to my life.  I enrolled in an eight week class at a local community college just to give me something exciting to do and learn.  I am #blessed to have this opportunity!
  7. Starbucks and being productive.  I have gotten into the habit of waking up early and sitting in Starbucks to get things accomplished.  Although it might not be the best and cheapest option, it has started to make me into a morning person.  I’ve also really enjoyed watching the sun come up and interacting with other Starbucks regulars. [Oh goodness does that mean I’m a regular now too?!]
  8. The upcoming holidays and many safe travels.  I love holidays and spending time with my family and friends, so I am extremely excited and thankful that it is finally *bursts into song* the most wonderful time of the year.  I have already traveled quite a bit, and will be doing more soon.  I am grateful for the easy drives that I have had so far, and preemptively grateful for more to come this holiday season.
  9. Putting up the Christmas decorations.  With my family we always wait until the weekend after Thanksgiving, so it was a bonus for me to put them up this early with my housemates.  We realized if we didn’t put them up las weekend, they wouldn’t get put up until almost Christmas.  There is just some sort of tranquility that comes with a Christmas tree and I am loving sitting in front of it as I write this list!
  10. Last but certainly not least, I’m so thankful for the blogging community.  More specifically, YOU!  It means so much to me that you have taken the time to read this and be a part of my life.  If we haven’t had any personal interaction, I highly recommend shooting me a message or an email.  I’d love to meet you!

Now it’s your turn!  Did you learn anything new about Thanksgiving?  What are you grateful for?  Let me know in the comments below!

2 Replies to “Brief History of Thanksgiving and My List of Gratitude”

  1. I enjoyed reading all about thanksgiving and it’s diverse celebrations. It’s a wonderful celebration for family/friend gatherings and A time to reflect on all we have for which to be grateful.

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