The History Of Thanksgiving
by Milan Riley
Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated in multiple countries around the world as it marks the end of the autumn season and shows gratitude for the fall harvest. Different countries have traditions and dates that vary for this occasion, but most are very similar. The majority of individuals that participate in Thanksgiving spend this time with their families and have a large feast. Some places that recognize the holiday, or have an event with a related concept, are the United States of America, Canada, Liberia, and Norfolk Island, which all have nearly identical customs for Thanksgiving. In addition, Germany, Grenada, China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam all have their own unique traditions for their harvest celebration.
Thanksgiving in America
In the United States, the traditions that evolved for Thanksgiving Day originated 400 years ago in 1621. It began when the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag, a local tribe of Native Americans, shared a feast to commemorate the colonists’ first successful harvest, which involved three days of rejoicing. It was the Native Americans who showed them how to survive the harsh winter, resulting in an alliance that lasted 50 years. In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln announced that Thanksgiving Day should be held on the last Thursday of November throughout the nation. However, this was altered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed a bill in 1941, moving the occasion and decreeing that Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November each year.
For the holiday, American households often gather with friends and family and enjoy a large meal, usually with turkey as the main dish. Pumpkin pie, stuffing, and mashed potatoes may be present as other traditional dishes. It is also common for individuals to volunteer on this day; food drives and free dinners are frequently hosted by communities. Parades, such as New York City’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, feature large character-shaped balloons, performers, and bands. These capture lots of attention as millions of people come to watch the festivities. In addition, since the middle of the 20th century, the U.S. president usually “pardons” at least one Thanksgiving turkey each year, letting them safely retire to a farm.
New York City’s Thanksgiving Parade 2021, hosted by Macy’s department store
Thanksgiving in Canada
The first Canadian Thanksgiving occurred around 1578, 43 years earlier than its American counterpart, although the first official Thanksgiving celebration didn’t occur in Canada until the 19th century. At first, similar European holidays were the inspiration for the event. The holiday allowed colonists in Canada to appreciate a successful harvest’s products. Despite being much older than American traditions, the Canadian holiday did adopt some of the U.S. customs later on.
Before and during the Revolutionary War, many American colonists who supported the British moved to Canada, thereby bringing their Thanksgiving practices. As a result, the Canadian menu for a Thanksgiving feast often includes a turkey, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, and stuffing, much like the Americans. Though there are many similarities, the date for the holiday differentiates from America’s; in Canada, Thanksgiving Day is on the second Monday of October. In addition, not every province celebrates it as a public holiday.
An example of a Canadian household on Thanksgiving Day
Thanksgiving in Liberia
Since Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in 1847, many of their traditions are influenced by the United States; this includes Thanksgiving customs. Some activities in Liberia include a church service on Thanksgiving Day followed by an auction of harvest crops. Finally, as in America, families would return home to a feast.
However, unlike America, the holiday is held on the first Thursday of November in Liberia. There are also some culinary differences; in Liberia, their menu consists of roast chicken, green bean casserole, and mashed cassavas. This is because it is rarer to find turkeys and pumpkins in Liberia, a West African nation. As with many Liberian celebrations, they also listen to music, dance, and sing on Thanksgiving Day.
Traditional foods for a Thanksgiving dinner in Liberia
Thanksgiving in Norfolk Island
Across the world, Norfolk Island, located off the coast of Australia, adopted a very similar version of American Thanksgiving. With a population of just 2,000 residents, the island was a British penal colony for 67 years, from 1788 to 1855. During this time, many whalers and traders from the United States visited the area. Isaac Robinson, an American trader, arrived in the late 1800s and introduced the traditional Thanksgiving to a local church. Despite him sadly dying soon afterward, the island kept the holiday. Now, individuals living on Norfolk Island have a feast with pork, chicken, bananas, and pumpkin pie. They celebrate the occasion on the last Wednesday of November.
A food drive on Norfolk Island during Thanksgiving