Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving (United States)

Thanksgiving Day in America is a time to offer thanks, of family gatherings and holiday meals. A time of turkeys, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. A time for Indian corn, holiday parades and giant balloons.



Thanksgving in the U.S. 

Thanksgiving Day is celebrated every fourth Thursday of November in the United States. This tradition started, when in 1621, the Pilgrims set aside a specific day to celebrate their first harvest at Plymouth. It wasn’t considered as a thanksgiving feast then but a regular harvest festival. It wasn’t until after a drought in 1623 that the Pilgrims held a true Thanksgiving Day. Ever since then, whenever there was a period on unfavorable events, people would fast; and for periods of favorable ones, they would hold a thansgiving feast. Eventually, Thanksgiving was celebrated annually but not on the same days in different colonies, nor was it on any specific day/date. Over the course of the 18h and 19th centuries, different Presidents declared different Thanksgiving days in celebration of victory, or any other event.

It wasn’t until 1939, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated in the next-to-last Thursday of November instead of the last one. He had hoped that it would give business time to earn profits before Christmas (America was in the Great Depression then). But since the declaration wasn’t mandatory, not all states followed this date. Almost half of the states followed this, while the other half continued to celebrate it on the last Thursday. Congress was also split on the issue. So what did they do? Compromise, of course. They established the Thanksgiving would occur on the fourth Thursday of the month – which was sometimes the next-to-last, sometimes the last Thursday of the month – and on November 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed the bill.


Thanksgiving in Canada

Thanksgiving in Canada is different, not just on the day it is celebrated – second Monday of October – but also in the history and roots of its tradition.

The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Canada. In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This is considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving, and the first Thanksgiving to have taken place in North America. Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies. Frobisher was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him – Frobisher Bay.

So, instead of giving thanks for rain after a drought, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in honor of Frobisher’s surviving his journey and all the other settlers who continued the tradition after arriving safely on the shores of Canada.  

Thanksgiving in Canada also corresponds to the English and continental European Harvest Festival, with churches decorated with cornucopias, pumpkins, corn, wheat sheaves and other harvest bounty, English and European harvest hymns sung on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend and scriptural lections drawn from the biblical stories relating to the Jewish harvest festival of Succoth


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 The Turkey Connection

Why the Turkey?

“The turkey is a much more respectable Bird and withal a true original Native of North America”. Remarked Benjamin Franklin, the scientist cum statesman, who was in favor of making Turkey the national Bird, instead of bald eagle.

Although there is actually no evidence that the turkey was served during the first Thanksgiving feast held by the Pilgrims, the bird has, nevertheless, been associated with this holiday. This tradition is rooted in the “History of Plymouth Plantation” written by William Bradfor, 22 years after the first celebration.

In his letter sent to England Edward Winslow, another Pilgrim, describes how the governor sent “four men out fowling” and they returned with turkeys, ducks and geese.

Unfortunately the Bradford document was lost after being taken away by the British during the War of Independence. Later it was rediscovered in 1854. And since then turkey turned out to be a popular symbol of the Thanksgiving Day. And today of all the the Thanksgiving symbols it has become the most well known.

Did you know? 

There are a number of explanations for the origin of the name of Thanksgiving’s favorite dinner guest. Some believe Christopher Columbus thought that the land he discovered was connected to India, and believed the bird he discovered (the turkey) was a type of peacock. He therefore called it ‘tuka,’ which is ‘peacock’ in Tamil, an Indian language.

Though the turkey is actually a type of pheasant, one can’t blame the explorer for trying.

The Native American name for turkey is ‘firkee’; some say this is how turkeys got their name. Simple facts, however, sometimes produce the best answers—when a turkey is scared, it makes a “turk, turk, turk” noise.


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One comment on “Thanksgiving Day

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