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The History Of Thanksgiving

So what is thanksgiving all about?

In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.

Thanksgiving turkey with pecan pie

In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

Thanksgiving Traditions

For many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original religious significance; instead, it now centres on cooking and sharing a huge meal with family and friends. Turkey, a Thanksgiving staple so ubiquitous it has become all but synonymous with the holiday, may or may not have been on offer when the Pilgrims hosted the inaugural feast in 1621. Today, however, nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird—whether roasted, baked or deep-fried—on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. Other traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Volunteering is a common Thanksgiving Day activity, and communities often hold food drives and host free dinners for the less fortunate.

Thanksgiving Parades have also become an integral part of the holiday in cities and towns across the United States. Presented by Macy’s department store since 1924, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the largest and most famous, attracting some 2 to 3 million spectators along its 2.5-mile route and drawing an enormous television audience. It typically features marching bands, performers, elaborate floats conveying various celebrities and giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters.

Beginning in the mid-20th century and perhaps even earlier, the president of the United States has “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year, sparing the birds from slaughter and sending them to a farm for retirement. A number of U.S. governors also perform the annual turkey pardoning ritual.



When Is Thanksgiving?

The date was changed a couple of times, most recently by Franklin Roosevelt, who set it up one week to the next-to-last Thursday in order to create a longer Christmas shopping season. Public uproar against this decision caused the president to move Thanksgiving back to its original date two years later. And in 1941, Thanksgiving was finally sanctioned by Congress as a legal holiday, as the fourth Thursday in November.

Thanksgiving Dates

Thursday, November 23, 2017
Thursday, November 22, 2018
Thursday, November 28, 2019
Thursday, November 26, 2020
Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thanksgiving Dinner

Because turkey is the most common main dish of a Thanksgiving dinner, Thanksgiving is sometimes colloquially called “turkey day.”  Most Thanksgiving turkeys are stuffed with a bread-based stuffing and roasted. Sage is the traditional herb added to the stuffing (also called dressing), along with chopped celery, carrots, and onions. Deep-fried turkey is rising in popularity, requiring special fryers to hold the large bird, and reportedly leading to fires and bad burns for those who fail to take care when dealing with a large quantity of very hot oil.

Thanksgiving turkey dinner

Many Americans would say it is "incomplete" without cranberry sauce; stuffing or dressing; and gravy. Other commonly served dishes include winter squash; yams; mashed potatoes; dumplings; corn on the cob or hominy; deviled eggs; green beans or green bean casserole, peas and carrots, bread rolls, cornbread (in the south and parts of New England), or biscuits, rutabagas or turnips; and a salad.

For dessert, various pies are often served, particularly apple pie, mincemeat pie, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate meringue pie and pecan pie, with the last four being particularly American

Thanksgiving Prayer

There is no official ‘Thanks to God’ but prayers of gratitude have been offered since long before the 1620 American tradition began. It is the source by which the Pilgrims decided to begin with a prayer of thanks at this historic feast shared with the Wampanoag Indians.

Here is a typical prayer that can be said at thanskgiving.

Dear precious Lord, we bow our heads in heartfelt, thankful prayer

For all the ways you’ve blessed our lives, and for your loving care.

We thank you for the hands that have prepared this special treat,
And pray that you will bless all those who have no food to eat.

We’re thankful for Salvation’s plan, and for your Holy Word,
And pray we’ll help to spread your love to those who’ve never heard.

We’re thankful for our freedom, and for churches that are near,
Where we can meet to praise your name, and worship without fear.

But still our hearts are saddened by our brothers who aren’t free,
Who suffer death and torture for their Christianity.

We pray you’ll give them strength and courage as their cross they bear,
And let them know God’s family remembers them in prayer.

We thank you for heroic troops who fight for liberty,
And daily risk their lives and limbs to keep our country free.

Forgive us of our many sins, and keep us close today;
And bless this food you’ve given us.
In Jesus name, we pray.

Amen