Turkey, pumpkin pie, family, football, and parades… Where did these traditions come from? And how did they become a part of the national holiday we call Thanksgiving?
In the fall of 1620, the cargo ship Mayflower transported a group of 102 English men, women, and children to the new world. A portion of this group were separatists, people who had religiously separated themselves from the Church of England and wanted to come to the new world to find religious freedom.
In time, these people would come to be known as the pilgrims. The Mayflower arrived at the new world in December of 1620, weeks later than they had originally hoped, and landing much farther north than they had planned.
Putting them in present-day Massachusetts. These unfortunate circumstances made for a particularly harsh winter. Nearly half the colonists died and those who did not, fell ill.
As the spring of 1621 approached, the luck of Plymouth Colony began to change. The colony was visited by several local Indians, or Wampanoag people.
Squanto spoke English and showed the pilgrims how to use fish as fertilizer to grow crops on sandy land.
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By November 1621, things were looking up for the pilgrims; they had survived their first year in the New World. The pilgrims collected their harvest which could have included corn, pumpkins, squash, and some grain. They caught fish and gathered together wild fowl or birds such as ducks geese, and even wild turkeys to feast on in celebration.
The mighty king of the Wampanoag people, Massasoit, joined the pilgrims with 90 of his men. He also donated five deer to this great feast, which lasted for three whole days.
To the pilgrims, this celebration was not the start of a new holiday; it was a common harvest festival, much like the ones held in Europe every fall after a good harvest.
Year after year, Americans continued to celebrate this day of feasting and thanks.
In 1924, Macy’s department store started their Thanksgiving Day Parade, which route heads down the streets of New York and ends at the store.
Also in the 1920s, the Detroit Lions came up with the idea of a Thanksgiving Day football game in order to boost dwindling attendance.
It was not until 1941 the Congress finally made Thanksgiving Day a legal holiday.