As families across the United States gather to celebrate Thanksgiving on November 23, 2023, it’s an opportune moment to delve into the rich tapestry of this national holiday, steeped in history and tradition.

The Roots of Thanksgiving

The roots of Thanksgiving stretch back to 1621 when Plymouth colonists from England and the Native American Wampanoag people shared an autumn harvest feast, recognized as one of the initial Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. However, the true story behind Thanksgiving is not without controversy. For many, it masks the complex history of oppression and strife between European settlers and Native Americans.

Pilgrims and Their Journey

The narrative begins in 1620 when the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers – religious separatists seeking freedom and other adventurers drawn by the promise of prosperity in the New World. Arriving at Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination, the Pilgrims established a village at Plymouth after a harsh winter that claimed half of their group.

The Turning Point

Surviving colonists moved ashore in 1621 and encountered Native Americans. Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who’d endured enslavement and returned to his homeland, aided the Pilgrims in cultivating crops, fishing, and establishing alliances with local tribes like the Wampanoag. Governor William Bradford organized a feast in November 1621 to celebrate their first successful corn harvest, marking what’s remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving.”

Evolution of Thanksgiving

While Plymouth, Massachusetts, holds its place in Thanksgiving history, some historians argue that Florida could have hosted the first celebration in North America in 1565. Over time, Thanksgiving evolved, with turkeys, local seafood, pumpkins, and fruits from the Pilgrims’ harvest featuring prominently.

National Recognition and Traditions

America’s call for a national day of thanksgiving dates back to the Revolutionary War era. It wasn’t until 1863, during the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln officially proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, an initiative partly spurred by the relentless advocacy of Sarah Josepha Hale, author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Thanksgiving Traditions Emerged

Thanksgiving evolved, witnessing presidential traditions like the annual pardoning of turkeys, the inception of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the amalgamation of football into the holiday’s festivities.

The Journey Continues

Through wars, presidential proclamations, and regional variations, Thanksgiving has remained a cornerstone of American tradition, a day where families gather to give thanks and share in a bountiful meal.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving in 2023, let’s acknowledge its intricate history, embrace traditions, and appreciate the spirit of unity and gratitude that this holiday embodies.

This year, as we gather around tables across the nation, let’s reflect on the journey, remember its roots, and be grateful for the blessings we share.

Credit: History Channel

Jozette Cooper