Thanksgiving Day – the story

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What is the story behind the Thanksgiving holiday?  And how is it celebrated?  Business Optimizer takes a look how the day has evolved over the years.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the last Thursday in November in the United States.

It marks a historic harvest celebration in 1621.  Survivors of the Mayflower, pilgrims who established Plymouth Colony, were hosted by Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe who introduced the starving pilgrims to the foods of the new world.

Abraham Lincoln established the national celebration on October 3, 1863, proclaiming “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” for “blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies” and a peaceful end to the Civil War (2 April 1861 – 9 April 1865).

It’s traditional to celebrate with a big Thanksgiving lunch – families and friends gather to eat roast turkey with sides such as turkey stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

The Thanksgiving meal is a time of blessings and thanksgiving – when people reflect on the year that has been and hopes for the future.

However, for many native American communities Thanksgiving is not a time of celebration but, rather, marks an ongoing tradition of settler colonialism.

The history of the Wampanoag tribe who welcomed the pilgrims amply illustrates these contradictions: the tensions that arose between the settlers and indigenous peoples in the years after 1621 reached a breaking point by 1675.  For three years, the conflict known as King Philip’s War raged throughout New England, destroying 12 towns and almost completely destroying the Wampanoag tribe and their allies, the Narragansett tribe from Rhode Island.

Meanwhile, the holiday has developed some modern traditions that have little to do with the Wampanoag or the harvest.

Thanksgiving is a federal holiday and over the Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday through to Monday) the vast majority of USA businesses are closed, including many shops and restaurants.

Today, it marks the start of the holiday season – which stretches through Hanukah and Christmas until New Year.

Another Thanksgiving tradition is the Thanksgiving Day football.  This tradition first began when Yale played Princeton back in 1876.  Since the NFL was formed in 1920, football has been a regular Thanksgiving activity for many Americans.

Even more recently, the Friday after Thanksgiving has also become an important date in the American holiday calendar.  Online retailers have claimed this day as “Black Friday” – a pre-holiday shopping day when goods are on sale at extreme discount.

However, some have argued that the holiday can be reclaimed as a time to give thanks and count our blessings.  For example, Seth Godin says: “A modern Thanksgiving would celebrate two things: the people in our lives who give us the support and love we need to make a difference, and… the opportunity to build something bigger than ourselves, something worth contributing. The ability to make connections, to lend a hand, to invent and create.”

To this end, he recommends this Thanksgiving reader: