Thanksgiving Day | Origin, History, Facts, Tradition,Controversy

Thanksgiving is hands down one of the most recognisable holidays in the world today. Many of us would think back fondly about that Friends episode on thanksgiving where everyone recollects their memories or Woody Allen’s magnificent film, “Hannah and her sisters” which revolves around thanksgiving.

So regardless of how, most of us are familiar with thanksgiving. But maybe this year you have been invited as a guest to a dinner and would like to dig a little deeper to understand the tradition better or you are just plain curious and want to know all there is about this festival. Well, fret not because we have you covered.

When did Thanksgiving originate?

So at some point you might have heard about the pilgrims but who were they? In 1620, a ship carrying around a 100 passengers left Plymouth, England for America in the hopes of a new life, a life free of religious persecution that they were facing back in England. After a treacherous journey they set up a village called, well, Plymouth in Massachusetts. The pilgrims found it tough to adapt to the new environments and many contracted diseases and died. This was when an Indian by the name of Squanto helped them. Squanto had been kidnapped by a British captain, sold to slavery in London and had then returned to America on board a ship on expedition. He taught them various skills and this helped them to successfully get a good harvest the next year. To commemorate this happy occasion, the Governor of the village, William Bradford invited the chiefs and other prominent Indians to a feast to thank them, although the term thanksgiving might not have been used.

And hence was born the tradition called Thanksgiving.

It is worth noting that there exist other stories on the origins and for the most part, scholars continue to argue about who first organized a Thanksgiving dinner but rest assured, as of now, the most widely accepted story continues to be this.

What is Thanksgiving in the USA? Thanksgiving in present form

In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation on the events of conclusion of the war and the ratification of the constitution to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. He asked his fellow Americans to express gratitude for the happy state of affairs.

Through much of the 19th century there was no uniform, Thanksgiving Day and the states that did celebrate it did so on various days. The seeds for having a uniform day for Thanksgiving were first sown by an author, Sarah Josepha Hale who campaigned relentlessly for 36 years for it to happen. Abraham Lincoln finally proclaimed that Thanksgiving be celebrated on the last Thursday of November and except for an infamous two years when it was pre-poned a week by FDR in the hopes of spurring sales but this was met with much opposition and so the dates were reverted back in 1941.

The dark history of Thanksgiving. Why many Americans don't celebrate it?

So was the celebration of Thanksgiving and the general climate at the time always genial and merry? Well, perhaps not. Take the events leading upto Thanksgiving 1637. The body of a white man was discovered and in retaliation the people burned villages of the Pequot nation down. It is estimated that 700 men, women and children died in this massacre. Merely days after this, the governor said, ”A day of thanksgiving. Thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children.” Given this incident it isn’t tough to imagine why quite a few refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving.

So there you have it, a short primer on Thanksgiving. But where does that leave you and me? Should we go ahead and celebrate the festival, in a celebration of man’s desire to exist and succeed which belongs to the core of the American dream? Or are we to look at the many fault lines, lines which haven’t been filled in USA’s short history as a union.

If you were to ask me, I would say one needs to have a unbiased understanding of history. After all, as the old saying goes, “Ones who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it”. I also think that assembling as a group for a warm and jovial time isn’t a crime. So if you are indeed going to celebrate Thanksgiving, whilst saying a prayer to the pilgrims also say a prayer to all those who had to tragically give up their lives, for no apparent reason but because of the color of their skin.

HAPPY THANKSGIVINGs!


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