Thanksgiving is for many people a day of food, football, family and friends. For us lucky Quinnipiac students, it also means a week without classes and a chance to take a break from our rigid schedules. But what is Thanksgiving really about?
In search of religious freedom, a group of determined people braved a two month voyage from England to America on a ship called the Mayflower. The first Thanksgiving feast was held by these people, known as Pilgrims, in 1621 as a celebration of the fall harvest. Though we know it today as Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims had a different definition of the word. To the Pilgrims, a “thanksgiving” was a religious experience when they would go to church and thank God for a specific event, like winning a battle. The first feast was not considered a “thanksgiving” by the Pilgrims because it was a day of feasting, not of prayer.
However, after barely surviving their first winter in the New World, the Pilgrims had a lot to be thankful for, including the help of the Wampanoag tribe. Some Pilgrims shared the feast with their Wampanoag friends.
There is only one account of the first Thanksgiving meal, and there is no mention of turkey, cranberry sauce or mashed potatoes. Yes, Thanksgiving without turkey. And, instead of watching football games, the Pilgrims and Wampanoag played games instead.
Over time, observance of Thanksgiving has changed and it has become more of a secular holiday, but religious roots were maintained for many years.
In 1777, a day of “solemn Thanksgiving and Praise” was declared by General George Washington to celebrate recent victories over the British in the American Revolution.
We celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November, but it did not occur on this day until a declaration was made by Abraham Lincoln in1863.
In 1939, there was a break from this established tradition when President Franklin Roosevelt was pressured by the National Retail Dry Goods Association to extend the Christmas shopping season. That year, Thanksgiving occurred on the second to last Thursday in November.
There are many things that can be done to celebrate Thanksgiving in modern times. Each family has its own traditions.
There is the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and there are countless football games on television. Some communities have religious and interfaith services the night before or the day of Thanksgiving.
Just like the Pilgrims we get together with family and friends and have a feast, though what we consider a traditional meal is a lot different than that of the Pilgrims.
Although our Thanksgiving is much different than the Pilgrims’ feast in 1621, we can keep them a part of our celebration by remembering to give thanks and be grateful for all we have in our lives, especially on Thanksgiving.