Do you know that the first Thanksgiving did not take place in America but in Canada? It’s true; an English explorer named Martin Frobisher had an official Thanksgiving feast in Canada to express his thankfulness to God after surviving a long and hard sea voyage. This first North American Thanksgiving became a yearly celebration and is still celebrated in Canada on the second Monday in October.
Do you know that American Thanksgiving did not start at Plymouth? Most people think the first Thanksgiving was a meal that the pilgrims and the Indians shared at Plymouth to celebrate their first harvest. The truth is that an official prayer of Thanksgiving was offered in the Virginia Colony two years before the Mayflower even landed. If you go to the site of the Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, you will find that there is still a celebration of the “real” first Thanksgiving held on December 4th.
The first Thanksgiving celebration that we are celebrating when we eat our turkey dinners on the third Thursday of November is the celebration associated with the pilgrims and the Indians. This Thanksgiving was celebrated in October of 1621, by the group of people that we now call the pilgrims. These were the people who came from England to the “New World” on the Mayflower. At the end of the first year, after the first harvest they threw a big party. This party lasted for three days and included plenty of food and festivities (but not sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, or football).
Thanksgiving did not start out as a holiday; it was just a big party the Pilgrims threw to celebrate having survived their first year in a sometimes-hostile land. They invited the local Indians from the Wampanoag tribe who had helped them with farming and survival. They did not have a party to celebrate Thanksgiving every year.
As America grew, different colonies set aside different days to celebrate their thankfulness but it wasn’t until 1777, more than 150 years later, that all of the colonies started to celebrate “Thanksgiving” as a holiday. At that time it was celebrated in October. Thanksgiving was declared a Holiday by George Washington on October 3rd, 1789. In Washington’s declaration of the Holiday, he proclaimed the 26th of November to be a day set aside to express thankfulness to God.
About 75 years later, Abraham Lincoln also made a proclamation establishing Thanksgiving Day as a “day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”. He also chose October 3rd as the day to make his proclamation. However, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be a day of Thanksgiving. The reason that Abraham Lincoln felt that he needed to re-proclaim the holiday was related to the civil war. He was doing what he could to reunite a country torn apart by war and he made a speech that suggested all Americans had reason to be thankful.
Years later, in 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday in November and it has been celebrated on that day every since. The reason for changing the date of the Holiday in 1941 was to lengthen the Christmas shopping season. Now that you know more about our celebrated Thanksgiving tradition, feel free to have seconds!