As much as American TV shows and movies like to project it as that, Thanksgiving really isn't about just Turkey and football. Celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States, Thanksgiving began as a tradition of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and the happy completion of preceding year.
While both Native Americans and Europeans have celebrated the end of harvest season with festivities for several centuries, Thanksgiving holiday as we know it today, is generally marked by an informal gathering of friends and families. The origin of Turkey Day celebrations as we know it, took place in Plymouth Colony -- present-day Massachusetts -- in 1621.
A Thanksgiving Timeline
1621: In November 1621, 53 Pilgrims gathered in Plymouth for a mass in celebration of their first harvest in the New World and invited 90 members belonging to the Wampanoag Native Americans to feast with them. The feast, which lasted three days, was the first instance of Thanksgiving gathering in America.
1789: President George Washington called for a public day of thanks, which became a tradition in many communities, thus beginning the tradition in many communities.
1863: The then-president Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November as a national day of giving thanks, officially making the tradition an annual holiday.
1924: Macy's Department store hosted its first Thanksgiving Day parade that included floats, marching bands and balloons, through the streets of New York City. The first Macy's Thanksgiving parade, which drew a crowd of over quarter million people, became an annual tradition so popular, that NBC began televising it in 1952.
1934: Thanksgiving and football began to go hand-in-hand since the classic holiday match, wherein Detroit Lions lost to the Chicago Bears (19-16).
1939: Marking the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt shifted Thanksgiving holiday from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday of the month, so that holiday shopping season in the year could be extended; considering November had five Thursdays that year.
1941: The Congress officials made the fourth Thursday of November as the official Thanksgiving holiday nationally.
1947: The tradition of the US president sparing a Thanksgiving turkey began. However, there is an opposing story that it may have begun much earlier, when President Abraham Lincoln saved his son's pet turkey.
1989: The tradition of "presidential turkey pardon" begins when George H.W. Bush uttered "pardon" referring to two turkeys during an official ceremony.
2014: Thanksgiving 2014 will see families and friends upholding the longstanding tradition of giving thanks, devouring roasted turkey and munching on the side dishes.
Fun facts about Thanksgiving
- Turkey was not on the menu for first Thanksgiving meal. In fact, deer, various types of foul, flint corn, cod, bass and other fishes were the dishes served back in 1621.
- Back when the pilgrims reached the new world, giving thanks was a norm throughout the year, for example, the safe arrival of a ship, survival of drought or harsh winter or winning a war against the Native Americans.
- Author of "Mary had a little lamb", Sarah Josepha Hale, campaigned for nearly 20 years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.
- About 20% of all cranberries that are consumed by Americans annually are on Thanksgiving Day.
- Everything that we know about Thanksgiving history comes from two brief passages; the first, a letter written by Edward Winslaw to his friend in 1621, in which he describes the first harvest festival and second, passages from "Of Plymouth Plantation," written by William Brandford, one of the first Pilgrims to arrive in Plymouth.