Friday, November 29, 2013
Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November. It became an official Federal holiday in 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens", to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26. As a federal and public holiday in the U.S., Thanksgiving is one of the major holidays of the year. Together with Christmas and New Year, Thanksgiving is a part of the broader holiday season.
The event that Americans commonly call the "First Thanksgiving" was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. This feast lasted three days, and it was attended by 90 Native Americans (as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow) and 53 Pilgrims. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating "thanksgivings"—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.
The traditional representation of where the first Thanksgiving was held in the United States has often been a subject of boosterism and debate, though the debate is often confused by mixing up the ideas of a Thanksgiving holiday celebration and a Thanksgiving religious service. According to author James Baker, this debate is a "tempest in a beanpot".
Local boosters in Virginia, Florida, and Texas promote their own colonists, who (like many people getting off a boat) gave thanks for setting foot again on dry land.
The first documented thanksgiving services in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards in the 16th century. Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.
On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred. The group's charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a "day of thanksgiving" to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodlief held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: "We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God." After the Indian massacre of 1622, the Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.
U.S. tradition compares the holiday with a meal held in 1621 by the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is continued in modern times with the Thanksgiving dinner, traditionally featuring turkey, playing a central role in the celebration of Thanksgiving.
In the United States, certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. Firstly, baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as "Turkey Day"). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, various fall vegetables (mainly various kinds of squashes), and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. All of these are actually native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food source to the Europeans when they arrived. Turkey may be an exception. In his book Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick suggests that the Pilgrims might already have been familiar with turkey in England, even though the bird is native to the Americas. The Spaniards had brought domesticated turkeys back from Central America in the early 17th century, and the birds soon became popular fare all over Europe, including England, where turkey (as an alternative to the traditional goose) became a "fixture at English Christmases".
Thanksgiving was founded as a religious observance for all the members of the community to give thanks to God for a common purpose. Historic reasons for community thanksgivings are: the 1541 thanksgiving mass after the expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado safely crossing the high plains of Texas and finding game, and the 1777 thanksgiving after the victory in the Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga.In his 1789 National Thanksgiving Proclamation, President Washington gave many noble reasons for a national Thanksgiving, including "for the civil and religious liberty", for "useful knowledge", and for God’s "kind care" and "His Providence". After President Washington delivered this message, the "Episcopal Church, of which President Washington was a member, announced that the first Thursday in November would become its regular day for giving thanks". After Washington, the only presidents to express a specifically Christian perspective in their proclamation have been Grover Cleveland in 1896,and William McKinley in 1900.Several other presidents have cited the Judeo-Christian tradition.
On Thanksgiving Day, families and friends usually gather for a large meal or dinner. Consequently, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year.Thanksgiving is a four-day or five-day weekend vacation for schools and colleges. Most business and government workers (78% in 2007) are given Thanksgiving and the day after as paid holidays.Thanksgiving Eve, the night before Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest nights of the year for bars and clubs (where it is often identified by the derogatory name Blackout Wednesday), as many college students and others return to their hometowns to reunite with friends and family.