Thanksgiving, as it is known today, is vastly different then from how it originated. There wasn’t always a Macy’s parade, or watching a football game, nor was pumpkin pie a dessert staple. These tried and true traditions only came into existence many years after the first Thanksgiving.
How it all began
In November of 1621, after a harsh year and the loss of many lives, the Pilgrim settlers of Plymouth Colony joined together with the Wampanoag Indians. They held a three-day feast to celebrate their first prosperous harvest of corn. It may come as a surprise to some that turkey was not as huge as a staple item at the first Thanksgiving as it is today. A journal entry written by Edward Winslow states that prior to the feast men were sent to go “fowling,” which more than likely resulted in them bringing back wild turkey, but also duck, goose, and swan. There were also five deer that the Indians brought with them to the feast.
The other food items that made up the rest of the feast is somewhat of a speculated mystery. Corn was most certainly a staple item and was served in the form of porridge. Pumpkins would have been eaten, but not in pie form that way we enjoy them today. Also due to the location of Plymouth, it is highly believed that shellfish made up a large part of their feast.
This three-day event did not become a yearly tradition, and it wasn’t until 1789 that a specific date for Thanksgiving was first decided on. President George Washington declared November 26th to be a day of “thanksgiving and prayer.” He wanted the people of America to “express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence.”
In 1827 Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of the famed nursery rhyme, Mary Had a Little lamb, began a crusade for Thanksgiving to be proclaimed as a national holiday. She wrote multitudes of letters to many politicians, as well as countless editorials. At last, in 1863 the celebration of Thanksgiving became official. President Abraham Lincoln declared it to be a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.
President Roosevelt put an end to this tradition in 1939, during the Great Depression. He moved the holiday to a week earlier in hopes that it would create more holiday sales. This change was opposed by many, and in 1941 Thanksgiving was once more declared as a national holiday. It would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.
Pumpkin pie, one of the most beloved Thanksgiving desserts, began its development in the late 1600’s, although these recipes mainly consisted of sliced pumpkin baked in a crust. There wasn’t a recipe that closely resembled the well-loved modern day pie until 1796 when Amelia Simmons published a cookbook with two pumpkin pudding recipes. Libby’s, a Chicago based canning company, came out with canned pumpkin in 1929 thus helping the pie movement to continue to grow into what it is today.
Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, at least according to the nearly 4 million people that watch it from the streets of New York City, along with the 50 million people that watch it on tv from the comfort of their homes. The famed parade began in 1924 and had been run every year except for 1942-1944 during WWII. The 1927 parade featured the first parade balloon, Felix the Cat, and from then on balloons have been a significant feature of the parade.
Football and Thanksgiving is another long-running tradition. The first Thanksgiving game took place in 1876, between Yale and Princeton. At the time, football was still developing into the game as it is known today, and for years games between colleges were played on this day. Professional football leagues didn’t play on Thanksgiving until 1920; sometimes with as many as six different games, today there are only three. Ever since 1934 the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving.
Whatever your family’s traditions may be, Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday meant to show appreciation and thanks. BEST is thankful for all our amazing clients and non-profit partners. Without these organizations nationwide, we would not be able to offer over 16+ CSR programs and help those in need through our charitable donations. THANK YOU!