By Sarah Shafaeen
Before visiting family, eating delicious food and looking for great deals the next day— trademarks of modern day Thanksgiving— you may wonder where the tradition of Thanksgiving originated from.
According to Pilgrimhall.org, historians agree that the first Thanksgiving occurred sometime in the fall of 1621 and was most likely an unplanned gathering. The Pilgrims were celebrating their first successful harvest when members of the Wampanoag tribe appeared, likely uninvited. According to an article from Smithsonian Magazine, the feast lasted three days and featured a menu with deer, fowl and corn.
A few years before this event, a disease from shipwrecked French sailors swept through New England and killed most of the Wampanoag tribe. The Pilgrims from the Mayflower were essentially living in the remnants of one of their decimated villages. The Natives’ motivations to extend good will towards the settlers was the result of the trade goods brought from Europe. According to history.com, the mutually beneficial relationship extended to the Wampanoag allying themselves with the Pilgrims to gain British goods and protection from warring tribes like the Narragansett, who wouldn’t mess with an ally of their trade partners. The Pilgrims, in turn, looked to the Wampanoag for survival, gaining valuable tricks like using fish for fertilizer to make effective use of their stolen cornfields.
While those may be the origins of modern day Thanksgiving, according to the National Parks Service, the practice of giving thanks dates back to celebrations in Europe involving fasting then feasting after enduring some great hardship. The first recorded Thanksgiving involving Spanish settlers and members of the Seloy tribe breaking bread with salted pork, garbanzo beans and holding Mass in 1565 Florida.
According to historian Melanie Kirkpatrick, Connecticut was the first state to have a Thanksgiving for general, everyday blessings, in 1778. Former President George Washington issued the first presidential proclamation to nationalize the tradition. However, that quickly became controversial, with members of Congress saying the president didn’t have that authority over the states. As a compromise, Washington recommended a day of thanks and sent a copy to every governor requesting, not ordering, the governors to issue their own day of Thanksgiving.
According to politifact.com, the holiday was finally officiated under former President Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November in large part thanks to an aggressive campaign by magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale.
So, when you finally dig into that slice of rich pumpkin pie, remember all the events that led to the Thanksgiving you celebrate today.