The History of Thanksgiving: When Did it Become a Holiday?

The Origins of Thanksgiving in America

Thanksgiving is a holiday with a long history that dates back to colonial times in America. The holiday has its roots in the harvest festivals that were common in Europe during the Middle Ages. These festivals were held to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and to celebrate the end of the farming season.

When the Pilgrims arrived in America in 1620, they brought with them their own traditions and customs, including a thanksgiving celebration that was held after the harvest. This celebration was not an annual event but was held sporadically when circumstances allowed.

The first recorded Thanksgiving in America was held in 1621 by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. The celebration was a three-day feast that was attended by approximately 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. The feast was held to give thanks for the Pilgrims’ successful harvest and to establish good relations with the Native Americans.

Thanksgiving celebrations continued to be held in various parts of the country in the years that followed, but it was not until the 19th century that Thanksgiving became a national holiday.

Sarah Josepha Hale’s Campaign for Thanksgiving

Sarah Josepha Hale was a prominent writer and editor in the 19th century who is best known for her campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Hale believed that Thanksgiving was an important holiday that should be celebrated by all Americans, regardless of their religious or cultural background.

In 1827, Hale published a novel called “Northwood” that included a chapter on Thanksgiving. The chapter described a Thanksgiving feast in detail and praised the holiday as a time for families to come together and give thanks for their blessings. Hale continued to write about Thanksgiving in her other works and in the magazine she edited, “Godey’s Lady’s Book.”

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Many people believe that Hale’s campaign was instrumental in persuading Lincoln to create the holiday. Hale continued to advocate for Thanksgiving throughout her life, and she is often called the “Mother of Thanksgiving” for her role in promoting the holiday.

President Lincoln’s Proclamation: Establishing a National Day of Thanksgiving

In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation on October 3, 1863, establishing the last Thursday of November as a national day of thanksgiving. The proclamation called on Americans to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Lincoln’s proclamation was widely praised and celebrated throughout the country. It was seen as a way to unite the nation and to give thanks for the blessings of life, even in the midst of war and hardship.

Thanksgiving continued to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November until 1939 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to boost retail sales during the Great Depression. This move was not popular with many Americans, and in 1941, Congress passed a law establishing the fourth Thursday of November as the official date for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving’s Evolution in the 20th Century

In the 20th century, Thanksgiving evolved from a simple harvest festival into a major national holiday. The holiday became more commercialized, with businesses using Thanksgiving as a way to promote sales and kick off the holiday shopping season.

Thanksgiving also became more focused on football, with the tradition of playing football games on Thanksgiving Day beginning in the early 20th century. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which began in 1924, also became an iconic part of the holiday.

In the latter part of the 20th century, Thanksgiving became more diverse, with people of different cultural and religious backgrounds celebrating the holiday in their own ways. Many families began incorporating their own traditions and foods into their Thanksgiving celebrations, leading to a more varied and inclusive holiday.

However, Thanksgiving also became a controversial holiday, with some Native Americans and others protesting the holiday’s origins and the treatment of Native Americans by European colonizers. Despite these controversies, Thanksgiving remains an important holiday in American culture and a time for families and friends to come together and give thanks.

Thanksgiving Today: Celebrations and Controversies

Today, Thanksgiving remains a popular and widely celebrated holiday in America. Many people see it as a time to give thanks for their blessings, spend time with loved ones, and enjoy a hearty feast.

However, Thanksgiving is not without its controversies. Some people criticize the holiday’s origins and the treatment of Native Americans by European colonizers. Others point to the commercialization of the holiday and the emphasis on consumerism and materialism.

In recent years, there has also been a growing awareness of the impact of Thanksgiving on the environment, particularly the carbon footprint associated with travel and food waste. Many people are now choosing to celebrate Thanksgiving in more sustainable and eco-friendly ways, such as by having a vegetarian or vegan feast or by traveling less.

Despite these controversies, Thanksgiving remains an important and beloved holiday in American culture. It continues to evolve and adapt to changing times, reflecting the diverse and dynamic nature of American society.

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