Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States. It is celebrated each year on the fourth Thursday in November. The day was originally set aside as a time when families gather together giving thanks to God for the year’s blessings. In many homes, a large dinner, usually consisting of roast turkey or ham is served as the main course. Accompanying the meal are many side dishes and desserts. Thanksgiving is traditionally a harvest festival.
A small ship, Mayflower, set sail from Plymouth, England, on September 16, 1620. The passengers spent 66 days in the hold of the ship arriving on November 21. Most of them were Puritans who had been persecuted for their religious beliefs in England. One month later, on December 26, all 102 passengers set foot on land and began to establish the colony of Plymouth. The Pilgrims, as these people came to be called, had borrowed money from a group of English merchants to cross the Atlantic Ocean and start a settlement in the Virginia Colony (USA). But during the long voyage, storms blew their crowded little vessel off course.
After sailing for more than two months, the Mayflower finally reached land near, what is now Provincetown, on Cape Cod. An Englishman named Captain John Smith had explored this part of the American coast (New England) several years earlier. The Pilgrims followed Smith's maps and sailed across Cape Cod Bay to the mainland coast of
They founded the Colony of Plymouth in December 1620. Most of the Pilgrims had suffered terribly from the long voyage. They immediately began to build shelters, but soon they were overcome by a local sickness. Through the course of the winter 46 died, nearly half their original number.
The Mayflower had been a cargo ship and had to be refitted to handle the Pilgrim passengers. It had three masts and a double deck. No one is sure of what happened to the original Mayflower after it returned to England the following April. A replica of the original Mayflower was built in England in the mid-1950's. This ship, Mayflower II, sailed across the Atlantic in 1957 to commemorate the Pilgrim's voyage. It is now anchored in Plymouth Harbor, Massachusetts.
The first American Thanksgiving is thought to have taken place in New England. The Pilgrim settlers, who established Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620, were the first to celebrate it. The Pilgrims had struggled bravely through a grim winter with much sickness and little food. The following spring, friendly Indians helped the settlers to plant corn, and in the autumn, the first crop was harvested. Governor William Bradford proclaimed three days of prayer and thanksgiving. The Pilgrims gave a huge feast and invited the Indian Chief, Massosoit, and 90 of his people.
The custom of observing a special harvest thanksgiving day spread throughout the other colonies in the years that followed. After the American Revolution various states continued the custom each one naming its own day for giving thanks. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday in November. The present date was established by Congress in 1941.
Original article by Larry James, revised by J. Bruce Sofia