How did it all start?
First I started my research with America and found that Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, which this year is 27th November. The original Thanksgiving Dinner can be traced back to the 16th Century and has a very interesting history.
It all started with the legendary pilgrims, who sailed over the Atlantic in the sailing vessel The Mayflower in 1620. Just over a hundred people travelled for nearly two months in extreme weather and were not allowed to go on deck. They were kept in the cargo space of the boat and sang psalms to comfort themselves during the journey. The Pilgrims had been originally destined for somewhere in the northern Virginia but they could not reach this, due to the wind blowing them off course. After 66 days they finally reach land and arrived at Plymouth Rock on December 11th 1620. During the extreme weather of that winter, around 45 pilgrims died until Squanto, a native Indian took pity on them and taught them to grow food.
They learnt how to grow corn, beans and pumpkins which helped them to survive, however, in the summer of 1621, a severe drought threatened to destroy their crops. A day of fasting and prayer was called for by the pilgrims and God must have heard them, as by the end of the day it rained, saving the corn crop. In the autumn of 1621, after a year of much hardship, the pilgrims held a grand celebration to thank God for the harvest. Over 90 people attended, including some Indians. Although this has become known as the “first thanksgiving feast”, there is some doubt if a dinner actually took place. The Pilgrims were very religious and would probably have had a day of fasting and pray, but many historians believe a Thanksgiving Dinner did take place.
There is no evidence that Turkey was eaten at the first Thanksgiving Dinner, although it was thought the meal was eaten outside, due to lack of indoor space to accommodate large numbers. A first-hand account, written by the leader of the colony Edward Winslow, described how four men were sent out to kill as many fowl and game as possible. The food included duck, geese, swan and venison along with fish, berries, watercress, dried fruit and plums. Pumpkins would have featured somewhere in the feast, but not in a pie, as flour was very scarce and led to the absence of any bread or pastry. Lobster and clams also featured, which was a stable diet caught from the waters around Plymouth.
The next Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1676 following another severe drought when again the people’s prayers were answered to save the crops and the Thanksgiving was proclaimed by Governor Bradford. In October 1777 all 13 colonies joined in a communal celebration for Thanksgiving, which also marked the victory over the British. George Washington proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day in 1789 as the idea grew in popularity, but it was only in 1863 that President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a National Day of Thanksgiving.
Modern day Thanksgiving
Stuffed turkey, Pumpkin Pie, cranberry sauce and corn, now all feature in the 21st Century Thanksgiving meal in America. The day has become a family reunion celebration with full dress parades and musical shows, not forgetting the popular NFL football match between Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. Homes are decorated with wreaths, fresh and dried flowers and the best china and cutlery is used to mark the occasion. Prayers are said throughout the day, especially at meal time or in Church. Cards have become big business in America, sending warm messages to friends and family, although relatives will travel hundreds of miles to get home for Thanksgiving.
Around the world
Although it originated in America, Thanksgiving celebrations spread around the world, with a communal gesture of displaying gratitude through prayer, hymns and feasting. In November 1997 in an effort to unite people, the millennium year was proclaimed as the “International Year of Thanksgiving” by the United Nations. This was the first time that the general assembly had voted unanimously in favour of a spiritual idea and the idea was to spread peace, harmony and friendly relations amongst all nations. One of the activities undertaken included a survey of members countries harvest related festivals.
Celebrate their Thanksgiving in May each year and celebration includes thanks to their favourite Rice God. The festival is called Tadau Ka’amaton and homemade rice called Tapai is drank by all. The carnivals feature traditional costumes and floats and the theme is ‘Without rice there is no Life’
There are many celebrations for a good harvest in Africa but the closest to Thanksgiving is ‘The Festival of the Yams’ and is celebrated in August after the rainy season. Food features very highly and dancers dress in traditional costumes and masks.
Also have many festivals for Thanksgiving such as the Orange Week and the Cane and Wheat Festival but the most popular is the Apple and Grape Festival. This festival is celebrated in March and lasts for 3 to 4 days. Activities include grape crushing, apple bobbing, street carnivals and firework displays and usually finish with an ambassador being selected for the coming year.
Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada, mostly because the season starts earlier there. The first celebration of Thanksgiving was celebrated on 15th April 1872 to give thanks for the recovery of King Edward V11 from serious illness. Today it celebrated in much the same way as America with prayers, feasts and activities mainly in the home.
Korea has Chu Suk which includes families visiting their elders for a family meal. The UK has its own harvest festival which usually is celebrated in Churches or schools but does not normally extend to family homes. India has Ladin or Ladainha and is usually a village celebration with flowers, fruit and hymns and prayers.