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Thanksgiving History: Meaning, Origins, And Celebration

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and everyone is already shopping for the holiday.

When you think about Thanksgiving, I bet the things that come to mind are the well-cooked turkey on the dinner table, being surrounded by the people you love most and a feeling of gratitude for the blessings.

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The holiday of Thanksgiving is celebrated in most parts of the world including the USA, Canada, and England.

While its name might suggest it a religious holiday, it is actually a secular holiday. Most people assume this because they hardly know the origin of the holiday.

Thanksgiving: Origins

While the name suggests a celebration, the Thanksgiving holiday actually came to be after a long struggle and many deaths.

You could almost say it had more significance back in the day as people today are not exposed to war and have all they need.

For the Pilgrims who started the holiday, life was anything but rosy. To take you back in time, imagine a bunch of people from the 15th century trying to run away from their home and settle elsewhere.

In essence, they were referred to as colonialists as their takeover was anything but peaceful.

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It all started in the year 1620, when a group of a hundred and two people from Plymouth, England boarded a small ship called the Mayflower. 

They consisted of a group of separatists who were against the open corruption of the Catholic church. Since they fought most of the decisions of the main church, many of these separatists knew the inside walls of prison cells very well.

It is the lack of freedom of religious expression that made them decide to flee England in search of a better home for them.

Pilgrims Journey

The boat they traveled in was not ideal and hence they finally docked in a faraway land many days after their estimated arrival date. It was a surprise that they survived at all.

The Pilgrims as they are now referred to landed North in modern-day Massachusetts.

They immediately started looking for land to settle and it quickly dawned on them that strangers in an unknown land. The cold winter temperatures accompanied by scurvy and illnesses wiped out most of the population before they found land.

By the time they found a good area to start building the Village of Plymouth, they had fast realized that they had to worry about much more than the climatic conditions.

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The locals in the area were hostile and constantly attacked them with their bows and arrows. They also did not have proper food as they did not know what to grow in the area.

The first building they constructed was used as a hospital for the sick. By the end of winter, only 47 of the Pilgrims were still breathing. So much for coming to the new land huh?

Mutual Respect

Things, however, started looking up when an Abenaki Indian visited them and greeted them in English.

Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, who spoke fluent English.

He was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe and had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland.

He came back to find all his tribe wiped out by disease and the settlers on their land.

Squanto and the Pilgrims had a mutually beneficial relationship where he taught them the ways of the land and how to survive.

He gave them the land’s secrets teaching them how to grow agriculture using fish as manure. This worked out well and united, they conquered more lands.

By the time the harvesting season came around, the settlers were overjoyed. Hence, they replicated the harvest festival usually held in England in the new land.

The Pilgrims came together and decided to celebrate the fact that they had survived their first year in the new land. Men were sent to shoot down some game birds including turkey.

They also gathered their harvest of corn, pumpkins, beans, and squash among many more to feast.

They invited their Native American allies to the feast. The Wampanoag chief Massasoit came with ninety of his men and five dears they had shot down. The celebration lasted a good three days.

The celebration was handled differently by different presidents.

It wasn’t a federal holiday until Abraham Lincoln, declared it in the year 1863, during the American Civil War. He set aside the last Thursday of November as the holiday. Thanksgiving has since been moved to the fourth Thursday of every November.

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