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Dr. Egghead: The First Thanksgiving Part 1

by Leah Carpenter

A time for family, giving thanks, football and, of course, turkey and pumpkin pies. The widely known traditions Americans have come to love were not present at the first Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving was in 1621 after the hardships of the colonists and the generosity of two Native Indian tribes.

Colonists had settled into Plymouth and could not harvest foods in the first years. Thanks to the Pawtuxet tribe and their leader Squanto, the colonist gained help and assistance with harvesting crops, catching fish and surviving the harsh winters.

In November of 1621, the colonists had their first successful corn harvest and wanted to celebrate. The colonists wanted to form an alliance with the Wampanoag tribe, so Governor William Bradford invited them to a feast (according to the History Channel).

The History Channel has a website that provides information and the history for a variety of topics. A section of the site is dedicated to the traditions of Thanksgiving and how the holiday came to be.

The Wampanoag tribe brought five deer to the dinner and the two groups of people came as one with traditional Indian dishes. The colonists were thankful to the tribe for teaching them how to grow food in that new land. Some of the greatly loved  foods such as desserts, pies and cakes that Americans enjoy today were not eaten due to the low amounts of sugar the Pilgrims had on the Mayflower.

America did not recognize Thanksgiving as a national holiday for two centuries. Individual states and colonies made the decisions on when they would celebrate Thanksgiving. New York was the first state to recognize the day as an annual holiday in 1817.

It was not until 1863, inthe middle of the American Civil War, when 16th President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday.

According to the History Channel Josepha Hale a magazine editor and prolific writer had a 36-year-long campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Hale wrote senators, governors and the president editorials to get the holiday certified.

It was Lincoln’s hope that Americans would come together. History Channel Lincoln asked Americans to ask God, “Commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife,” and to also “heal the wounds of the nation.” The decision was made the holiday would be celebrated on the last Thursday of November each year.

According to the History Channel, in 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office he made an attempt to move Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November. The move was to spur retail sales during the Great Depression, but the change was met with great controversy.

Americans protested this change, and some even called the change, “Franksgiving” to symbolize the hatred of change. Later, FDR changed Thanksgiving back to the fourth Thursday in November.

The holiday that resembles turkey, pies and football has evolved throughout centuries, but one aspect remains the same, giving thanks.

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