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For anyone who's an avid viewer of the annual Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, you might have an idea about how the first Thanksgiving celebration came about. Linus Van Pelt recalled the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 with Indian chief Massasoit, Governor William Bradford and Captain Miles Standish. But, for the history buff, there was one Thanksgiving celebration that was held before.
In 1619, a small celebration on the Berkeley Plantation in Virginia took place with 38 English settlers. Even though it is recorded that the observance was held on Dec. 4, the day was set aside as a day of thanksgiving as mentioned in their original charter. But because of the trials of pioneer life and other such problems, the celebration was short-lived.
The one Linus mentioned is perhaps the most famous Thanksgiving celebration. The Pilgrims had landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, but in an effort to be religiously free and seek prosperity, the "New World" had been hard on them. Disease and the harsh winter weather led to numerous deaths and a bleak outlook. However, the New England spring brought better times, including an Indian named Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to harvest the land. A celebration was in order, and in 1621, with a successful harvest, Governor William Bradford held a three-day long celebration with Wampanoag chief Massasoit and approximately 100 Native Americans to show thanks for his appreciation.
Various Thanksgiving celebrations and dates ensued throughout the holiday's beginning. The second recorded Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims was in 1623, to mark the end of a drought. In 1668, an attempt was made to secure Nov. 25, as the official day of Thanksgiving by the Plymouth General Court, but the proclamation only lasted for five years. Also, the first national celebration of Thanksgiving took place in 1777, as a one-time celebration of an American victory over the British at Saratoga.
Even several American presidents had conflicts on when and how to celebrate Thanksgiving. George Washington made the first Presidential proclamation in 1789 of Thanksgiving as a national event and was held on Nov. 26, that year. But when John Adams, the second president, tried to move the Thanksgiving celebration to Thursday from the previous Wednesday, negative feedback prompted him to change the day to its original date. James Madison also set aside a day of thanks, but President Thomas Jefferson was actually against the idea of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Nevertheless, through the persistence of magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale by means of letters and articles, urging the national celebration of a day of thanks, President Abraham Lincoln named the last Thursday of November as the national day of Thanksgiving in 1863. The date was set and celebrated annually until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to move the holiday up a week. His reasoning was to extend and boost the Christmas shopping season during the Great Depression, but the majority greatly opposed. Two years later, in 1941, President Roosevelt signed a bill marking Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November.
But, how has the holiday evolved for the majority of Americans since that time? Today, American presidents will "pardon" a Thanksgiving turkey from the dinner table to retirement on a farm. Now, families awaken that Thursday morning to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City, with sidewalks lined up with onlookers and streets bombarded with cartoon character balloons, celebrities and musical / dance performances. The afternoon is spent in front of a television set watching football games, watching the college teams collide and the professional teams in a triple-header.
Most families will spend their Thanksgiving evening in front of a full spread of delicious delicacies with family and friends. The traditional oven-roasted turkey is now also baked or deep fried, paired with sides such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and other vegetables. The meal concludes with a traditional pumpkin pie, which actually didn't originate back from the Pilgrim celebration. History.com notes that because of the lack of sugar and no ovens, the first Thanksgiving meals lacked desserts, which today signify the end of the Thanksgiving feast.
Some individuals attempt to replay the spirit of the first Thanksgiving through various service projects. Food drives, free dinners and volunteering throughout communities are common Thanksgiving Day activities that benefit the less fortunate and needy. However you intend to celebrate it this Thursday, take the time to be thankful for whatever it is you have. Linus Van Pelt ended his Thanksgiving speech with this quote, echoing the sentiment of Thanksgiving from its inception through the years to come:
"Elder William Brewster, who was a minister, said a prayer that went something like this: 'We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land. We thank God for the opportunity to create a new world for freedom and justice.'"