As a holiday, Thanksgiving has a special meaning and history.
| Thanksgiving encompasses the concepts of gratefulness and friendship. As a holiday, it has a special history and a plethora of rituals. The idea of giving thanks for food and friendship did not start with today's Thanksgiving holiday. It was always there, even before the major religions admitted it inside their rituals.
Earlier than the time humans settled down in certain parts of the planet Earth, the hunters rejoiced and thanked their gods of nature for making the prey available. Later, when the settlements formed and people learned farming, giving thanks for nature's gifts after a bountiful harvest became a seasonal ceremony.
Autumn is known to be a generous season to the New England area with its game and harvests. During the late sixteenth century, the Europeans who migrated to the Americas wrote about the different and flavorsome foods found in the new continent. The Wampanoag, indigenous people of New England with whom the early settlers celebrated the first Thanksgiving, already had celebratory rituals showing their thankfulness to nature.
Having gone through times of hunger and deprivation, the early colonists of the Plymouth plantation were delighted with the bounty of 1621 when they harvested their first crop, and together with the Wampanoag people and their Chief Massasoit, they celebrated that year's harvest for three days with entertainment, food, and friendship. As much as this celebration signaled entertainment for the Indians, it meant serious worship for the Puritans.
The Thanksgiving food in 1621 for those three days probably consisted of venison, wild turkeys, fish, onions, corn, berries, cranberries, and chestnuts. The exact meals are difficult to pinpoint, but culinary history of the region shows that the pies and the baking came much later after the people established colonies and built ovens.
The concept of friendship and diplomacy between the Indians and the colonists, unfortunately, did not remain for very long. The rapid increase of the colonist population in New England led to tension and wars.
The early colonists were not called pilgrims. The word "pilgrim" was coined, out of context, during the early nineteenth century, and the idea to make Thanksgiving a national holiday spread around much later when a book, Chronicles of the Pilgrim Forefathers was published. In time, what had started as a harvest celebration became the national holiday, Thanksgiving, in 1863.
This holiday owes its birth to a woman, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale--the editor of the women's magazine, Godey's Lady Book. Mrs. Hale, after campaigning for years, was successful in convincing President Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Since the American South saw this as a Yankee holiday, they made up their own Thanksgiving Day; however, the holiday took hold, and each ethnic community who migrated to the new world added its own special touch to the food and the entertainment of the day.
In our time, a classic Thanksgiving dinner consists of turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and root vegetables with additions from the local and ethnic dishes and flavors, such as lasagna and turkey stuffed with a duck. The Thanksgiving meal's main dish is the turkey. The Thanksgiving turkey gained presidential fame when the National Turkey Federation presented President Truman with a turkey. Eventually, pardoning a turkey from becoming a meal turned into a yearly ritual for the United States Presidents.
Thanksgiving, on the last Thursday of each November, is the heartfelt celebration of a grateful, melting-pot nation. May it spread and bring peace and prosperity to the entire world.