Thanksgiving Becomes a Holiday in America

Updated on December 22, 2016

Thanksgiving is thought to be an American holiday that dates back to the 1600's and the Pilgrims. But many countries have had Harvest Festivals similar to the Thanksgiving holiday in America for centuries.

Several states claim they had the first Thanksgiving celebration. They are Texas, Florida, Virginia and Maine.

Before the Mayflower landed on American shores, the Spanish explorers and English settlers celebrated religious services of thanksgiving. It is always said that the American Thanksgiving holiday originated with the 3-day event in Plymouth in the fall of 1621

Colony of Plymouth in New World

Author Unknown [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Author Unknown [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Thanksgiving is considered an American holiday by many. It is a day of giving thanks to our creator for all he has given us. This has always been part of the Wampanoag Indian way of life. Native people of North America have had ceremonies to give thanks for a great harvest, growing season and birth of a child for centuries. These were the reasons for ceremonies and celebrations and still are. In England and all over Europe celebration with feasting after a good crop and harvest have been going on for centuries. When the settlers were rewarded with a bountiful harvest after a year of sickness, they gave thanks to God and celebrated with feasting and much merriment.

When the Pilgrims and Puritans came to America, they brought new Thanksgiving traditions with them. Our Thanksgiving celebrations are composed of the New England custom of celebrating a successful harvest that is based on ancient English harvest festivals and the Puritan Thanksgiving of religious observance that celebrates fasting and prayer.

Pilgrims Came to the New World

Robert Walter Weir [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Robert Walter Weir [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

The Pilgrims came to America because they wanted to get away from religious persecution in England. Many Pilgrims left England in 1609 and settled in Holland. After a few years, their children were speaking Dutch and liked the Dutch way of life. This worried their Pilgrim parents because they considered the Dutch frivolous and a threat to their children's morality.

The Pilgrims decided they would leave Holland and go to the New World. A group of English investors paid the expenses for their trip and the Pilgrims were to pay them back by working for the investors for seven years.

The Pilgrims left for America, the New World, on the Mayflower on September 6, 1620. The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England with 44 Pilgrims who were called the “Saints” and 66 other passengers the Pilgrims called the “Strangers.”

The trip was very long and it was damp and cold. The people had to eat cold food for 65 days as they could not build a fire because the ship was made of wood and they were afraid of starting a fire. The Milligrams were weakened by their 2-month trip. Many people got sick, and one died. They reached land on November 10th.

Signing of Mayflower Companct

Author Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Author Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

The Saints and Strangers had many disagreements on the trip. After they reached land, they had a meeting and agreed to work together. Their agreement was called the “Mayflower Compact” which made the two groups equal and unified. They agreed and called themselves the Pilgrims.

Pilgrims Landing in the New World

Henry A. Bacon [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Henry A. Bacon [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

When the ship with the Pilgrims spotted land, it was Cape Cod but they did not stop. They sailed on to Plymouth which was discovered in 1614 by Captain John Smith. The Pilgrims settled in Plymouth with its good harbor. There was also a brook where they could get fish. It was winter when the Pilgrimages landed in the New World. It was hard to find food and build their homes. The Pilgrims main concern was that the local Native Indians might attack them. It turned out the Patuxets were very peaceful Indians. They were no threat to the Pilgrims.

The Pilgrims first winter was terrible and many of the settlers became ill. There were very heavy snow storms and sleet and was extremely cold. It was so cold they had a problem building their settlement. The weather became much warmer in March. The Pilgrims that were left health improved. Less than 50 Pilgrims and crew out of 110 survived the first winter.

Squanto Helped the Pilgrims

By The German Kali Works, New York [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By The German Kali Works, New York [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

The native people were called the Wampanoag. They were a peaceful people that lived in Massachusetts. They called the Pilgrims “coat men” and they helped them survive the winter.

An Indian brave came to the Pilgrim settlement in March of 1621. The Pilgrims were afraid until the Indian greeted them by saying “welcome.” The Indian was from the Abnaki tribe and his name was Samoset. The captains of the fishing boats that sailed off the coast, had taught him English. He spent the night and left the next day. A short time later he returned with another Indian. He spoke very good English. His name was Squanto. He told the Pilgrims he had gone on voyages to England and Spain and that he learned English in England. Squanto helped the Pilgrims a lot and they would not have survived without his help.

The Pilgrims were taught by Squanto how to get sap from maple trees. He showed them which plants they could use for medical purposes. Squanto showed them how to plant Indian corn. They had to build a low mound and put several corn seeds in the mound with some fish and cover it up. When the fish decayed, it would fertilize the corn. Squanto showed them how to plant several other crops.

The Pilgrims had a very good harvest in October. They now had more than enough food to last them the winter. They had corn, fruit and several kinds of vegetables. They had fish packed in salt and meat that they cured over a fire.

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

The Pilgrims were happy and they celebrated. They built their homes, their crops were good, and they would have enough food to last through the winter. They had plenty of fish and food, and their Indian neighbors were friendly so it was time to celebrate and give thanks. Squanto and the other Indians joined their celebration. Chief Masoasott and his braves showed up to help the Pilgrims celebrate. The festivities lasted 3 days.

The Pilgrims and Indians had a great time playing games, running races and playing drums. The Indians showed the Pilgrims how well they could shot the bow and arrow. The Pilgrims showed the Indians how good they were at shooting their muskets. It is believed this celebration took place in the middle of October, but no one knows for sure.

The next year the Pilgrims did not have a good crop. Therefore, their harvest was poor. They were not very good at growing corn yet. They ran short of food because of a poor harvest, and they had given some of their food to other settlers.

On their 3rd year in Plymouth, the spring and summer were very hot and dry and their crops dried up in the fields. The Governor decided they should have a day of prayer and fasting. Soon after it started raining. They proclaimed November 24th as a day for giving thanks and celebrating. Celebrating Thanksgiving became an annual event. The celebration would be held after the harvest.

New York started celebrating Thanksgiving every year in 1817. Many states started celebrating Thanksgiving in the 19th century. President Abraham Lincoln established a national day of thanksgiving in 1863. Thanksgiving has been celebrated every November since.


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    • norlawrence profile imageAUTHOR

      Norma Lawrence 

      3 years ago from California

      Thank you Zulma. Glad you liked the article.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thanks you Zultria. Glad you like the article.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      3 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for the timely hub. I'll be passing this story on at our Thanksgiving dinner this year.

    • norlawrence profile imageAUTHOR

      Norma Lawrence 

      3 years ago from California

      Thank you for your comment. Glad you liked it. I does need to be improved by decided to submit it because Thanksgiving is getting close.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      3 years ago

      Thank you. I liked reading this story about the background of the American Thanksgiving Day.


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