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Holiday Insight: Thanksgiving

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General Information

For Americans, Thanksgiving evokes thoughts of pilgrims dressed in their Sunday best, Indians in Native American costume, a table strewn with food from end to end, and families gathered together for a tasty meal that sometimes lasts all day.

For others, it's a day full of football or even a trip to a big-city parade to welcome in that other favorite winter holiday...Christmas.

For most, however, Thanksgiving is indeed a time of togetherness and an opportunity to give thanks for one's blessings. Just like the pilgrims and Native Americans from centuries past, this November holiday offers a reason for friends and family to put differences aside and join together in harmony.

Children love to sing songs about turkeys and their eventual demise on Thanksgiving Day. They delight in sending silly turkey greeting cards and funny Thanksgiving e-cards to their friends and family.

The Thanksgiving meal is certainly often the most memorable of part of the day for everyone. Who doesn't love turkey and yummy pumpkin pie and all the things in between like mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, fresh rolls, and other Thanksgiving trimmings?

History of Thanksgiving

Harvest feasts have been around for centuries and certainly long before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. In many countries, it was customary to gather together in the autumn and give thanks for the bountiful harvest.

The early Romans offered the first fruits of the harvest to the goddess Ceres and capped off the festival with games, music, and parades. The Egyptians celebrated their autumn festival in honor of Min, the god of vegetation and fertility.

Jews still mark the festival of Sukkoth and have been doing so for thousands of years while the ancient Greeks held a fall festival honoring Demeter, the goddess of corn.

The most popular Thanksgiving or fall festival stories, however, stem from the Pilgrims and Indians of pre-Colonial America. It is documented that in 1621, after a particularly difficult first year in the New World, Pilgrims found themselves with a plentiful harvest. Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and asked the pilgrims to share their fortune with their new friends, the Indians.

But the first feast was far from the picturesque dinner served at modern-day Thanksgiving holidays. Fact is, according to experts, there was no turkey, just venison and wildfowl. There probably weren't a lot of vegetables as many varieties were not yet available in the New World. The Pilgrims didn't have much sugar so there definitely wasn't any pumpkin pie.

Most likely, the participants of the first feast didn't even call it Thanksgiving. To them, Thanksgiving referred to a religious holiday when all attended church to give thanks to God for a particular blessing. Also, the initial feast was probably celebrated in late September rather than November to coincide with English harvest festivals.

The next Thanksgiving Feast wasn't held until more than 50 years later and finally, in 1777, all thirteen colonies celebrated Thanksgiving at the same time. George Washington proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789 but many of the struggling colonies didn't see fit to celebrate.

It wasn't until 1941 that Thanksgiving was designated as the fourth Thursday in November, as suggested by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Prior to that, Lincoln had deemed the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day as it coincided with the Pilgrim's landing at Plymouth Rock.

Date of Celebration

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November throughout the United States. Canada celebrates a day of Thanksgiving on the 2nd Monday in October.

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