Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a national holiday associated with a harvest festival celebrated principally in the United States and Canada. It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday (which is not always the last Thursday) of November in the United States and the second Monday in October in Canada. Other countries that celebrate an annual Thanksgiving holiday include South Korea, Japan, Laos, the Philippines, Guam, Grenada, Puerto Rico, Liberia and the Virgin Islands.

On December 21st, 1620, the Pilgrims had arrived ashore from the Mayflower. They had battled through a severe winter and many of their number had been lost. Fortunately, their first harvest was very good. A poor harvest would have consigned the settlement to quick conclusion. The settlers had been provided with seeds to harvest corn by local Indians, from which they produced 20 acres. Local Indians also taught the settlers to cultivate squash and beans. They also harvested barley. Governor William Bradford organized hunting parties who returned with waterfowl and wild turkeys. Local Indian hunters brought deer, and from the seas, the colonizers caught cod, bass and eel. For three days, ninety Indians of the Wampanoag, including their leader Massasoit feasted with the 50 settlers on the plentiful harvest.

The exact date of the feast is unknown, though it is thought to have occurred between mid-September and the beginning of December. William Bradford wrote in his work “Of Plymouth Plantation” that on September 18th some settlers set off in a small boat to trade with Indians at Massachusetts Bay. The harvest was gathered after their return. Pilgrim leader, Edward Winslow, referred to the feast in a letter on December 11th that year. This first feast was not referred to as a thanksgiving. The Pilgrims first set aside a day for a thanksgiving two years later to give thanks for the rains that had concluded an extensive drought. Days of thanksgiving following harvests were celebrated throughout colonies of New England on different and varying dates, before later being upheld by proclamations of state governors.

In the mid-19th century, Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the then popular woman’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, held strong convictions that a national day of thanksgiving should be made a holiday. She began a campaign in 1846 and for many years, she lobbied Presidents, state governors and other important persons with letters. Miss Hale chose the final Thursday in November for her perceived national day of thanksgiving, as it was on the last Thursday on November in 1789 that George Washington had proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day in honor of the new United States Constitution. Lincoln and all ensuing Presidents proclaimed the holiday each year. The date chosen, with a few exceptions, was the last Thursday in November.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought Thanksgiving fell to close to Christmas and in 1939, he proclaimed the third Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. Most, but not all, states complied. In December 1941, a joint resolution of Congress specified the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. The holiday thought to have derived from Pilgrims and Native Americans coming together to share a harvest has come to symbolize inter-cultural peace, America’s great opportunity for newcomers and an inherent devotion to home and family.