When is Thanksgiving (07.05.2018)
Observed in United States and Canada, as well as some island countries in the Pacific
Observed on Fourth Thursday in November (United States); second Monday in October (Canada)
Observed by General Public
Thanksgiving, with its roots in the pagan celebrations of the autumn harvest, is a holiday observed throughout North America. In the United States Thanksgiving is commemorated on the fourth Thursday of November. In Canada, since the harvest takes place a little earlier, the holiday is observed on the second Monday of October.
The celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States was possibly a derivative of England’s harvest-home rituals. These were days set aside to thank God for healthy crops and an abundant harvest.
This holiday accordingly takes place in late autumn, after the crops have been harvested. In the recent past Thanksgiving has become a family affair in the United States, complete with elaborate dinners and joyful reunions; however, it is also conventionally a time for church services, religious contemplation, and prayer.
Origins and History
Thanksgiving traditions draw on ancient pagan harvest festivals. These were already European traditions before Europeans stumbled into the Western Hemisphere. So it is perhaps natural that they brought the festivities with them as remembered “good times.” The first Thanksgiving in North America was not, however, celebrated by Pilgrims; rather it was held in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1578 by the Frobisher Expedition. The first “thanksgiving” observance in the territory that would become the United States was held in Florida, not Massachusetts, as is commonly believed, and the people who sat down to dine with their new friends, the Amerindians, were Spanish, not English. The feast was held on September 8, 1565, in St. Augustine, Florida, when Pedro Menéndez and his men shared a sumptuous meal with the indigenous people.
Yet another “thanksgiving” was wholly religious in nature but did not involve feasting at all, and was in fact not even voluntary. In 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation on the James River, at a place now known as Charles City, Virginia. The contract of the group made it mandatory that the day of arrival be observed as a day of giving thanks to God. As far as anyone knows, no food was served.
However, most people are inappropriately taught and believe that the real “first” Thanksgiving was held on a date that no one thought to record in 1621, sometime in the fall, when the Pilgrims held a three-day feast to celebrate their first harvest in North America. Joining them in the three-day festivities was Massasoit and 90 of his men, who contributed five deer to the meal. The Pilgrims had come from Plymouth, England, on a ship named the Mayflower, a small ship packed with men, women, and children, in addition to the sailors.
Aboard the ship were passengers consisting of the separatists, who preferred to call themselves the Saints, and the rest, whom they called the Strangers.
All had come seeking the riches of the “new” world.
The Pilgrims were ill-prepared for the starvation and illnesses of a cruel New England winter, and nearly half of them died before spring arrived.
Also the Pilgrims’ biggest concern was the possibility of aggression by local Indians. The Patuxets (the name of the tribe) were, however, a gentle group and were not a threat. Then on March 16, 1621, something significant happened. A Native American brave marched into the Pilgrims’ settlement.
The visitors were initially frightened, until he greeted them by saying “Welcome” (in English).
His name was Samoset, and he had learned the English language from captains of fishing boats that used to sail off the coast. He was to return to the Pilgrims with Squanto, who happened to be more fluent in English because he had already visited Spain and England.
Squanto’s value to the Pilgrims was incalculable, and the Pilgrims would probably not have survived without his knowledge and help. He taught them to tap maple trees for sap. He taught them about plants that had medicinal qualities and those that were poisonous. He taught them the trick of planting Indian corn by piling the earth into several low mounds with fish and seeds in each one so that the decaying fish would fertilize the corn. Squanto also taught them to plant different crops with the corn, with the result that the Pilgrims reaped an abundant harvest in the fall.
The Pilgrims announced a three-day feast, beginning on December 13, 1621, to offer their thanks to God and to enjoy the fruits of their labors with their Indian friends. This may not have been the first Thanksgiving in the country-thanksgiving services were routine in the state of Virginia as early as 1607-but it was certainly the most splendid festival.
Immediately after their first harvest, the Pilgrims set aside a day for Thanksgiving. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Thanksgiving was first celebrated in 1631 and often thereafter, until around 1680, when it was made an annual festival.
In Connecticut Thanksgiving was celebrated as early as 1639 and annually after 1647, with the exception of the year 1675. The Dutch of New Netherlands were more dilatory, first establishing a day for giving thanks in 1644, and only sporadically after that.
The Continental Congress assigned one or more Thanksgiving Days during the American Revolutionary War, with the exception of 1777, each time suggesting to the governors of the various states the dates on which these holidays should be observed. George Washington declared a Thanksgiving in December 1777 to celebrate the defeat of the British by his troops at Saratoga, New York, and the Continental Congress followed his lead, proclaiming annual December Thanksgiving day from 1778 to 1783, except for the year 1782.
After the American Revolution the first national Thanksgiving, proclaimed by President George Washington, was November 26, 1789. He declared November 26 as a day to give “humble and sincere” thanks to God. There was, however, no national concurrence on a day for the holiday. After a five-year sabbatical with no celebration, George Washington’s announcement thus rejuvenated the holiday and moved it to November, a month earlier.
Some of the subsequent presidents declared different days of Thanksgiving, with James Madison actually proclaiming two in 1815, but none of these occasions fell in autumn.
The notion of a national day of Thanksgiving did not come up again until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln revived the custom, fixing the date as the last Thursday of November. Lincoln, following crucial wins by the Union forces at Vicksburg and Gettysburg during that year’s summer, issued a statement that made the fourth Thursday of November a national Thanksgiving Day. Even then the holiday was not commonly accepted, mainly in the South, on the ground that it was a relic of Puritanical bigotry. The year 1863 was also the year that the Pilgrims got their capital P.
The Separatists who founded the Plymouth colony were one among several predecessors, and they had on occasion called themselves “pilgrims” as a means of connecting their colonizing experience with that of the Hebrews and managing in the process to identify themselves as God’s “chosen people.” Until the late 18th century they were called either “Old Comers” or “First Comers”; later they acquired the epithet “forefathers,” an idea that appealed to men’s organizations like the Old Colony Club, whose members were determined that Landing Day or Forefathers’ Day, observances intended to memorialize and masculinize the day of the Mayflower’s landing, might replace or, at least, compete with the Thanksgiving holiday.
From 1939 to 1941 Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the third Thursday in November as Thanksgiving to give merchants additional time to profit from the approach of the December season of gift exchanges. Some of the states approved, some did not, and others, like Texas, could not make a decision and so took both weeks as holidays. In the end the two houses of the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1941, decreeing that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday of November.
Today Thanksgiving is a feast celebrated with family and friends. In the United States it is a major family holiday, and people often travel the breadth of the country to be with their loved ones. The Thanksgiving holiday is usually a four-day weekend, with both Thursday and Friday set aside as holidays.
In Canada Thanksgiving is a three-day holiday; otherwise it is very similar to the U.S. version. Thanksgiving is celebrated almost exclusively at home, unlike the Independence Day (Fourth of July) or Christmas, which are connected with a spectrum of festivities (fireworks, caroling, and so on).