Thanksgiving History

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Thanksgiving Histories

Teacher reference about the history of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Histories

Tell your students about some or all of the many historic thanksgivings:

The journey

It was said to be Sept. 6, 1620 when the Pilgrims set sail for the New World on a ship named the Mayflower. They sailed from Plymouth, England on a trip that lasted 65 days in a cold and dreary wooden ship. They ate cold food as they couldn't build a fire on a wooden ship. (Imagine why not?)

Aboard the ship were 44 Pilgrims, who called themselves the "Saints", and 66 other people ,who the Pilgrims called the "Strangers."

Land was sighted on November 10th.



One source proclaims the first Thanksgiving celebration was held in America 1619. On December fourth of that year, thirty-eight English settlers arrived at the Berkeley Plantation in Virginia. Part of their original agreement was that they would make special that day every year and observe it as a day of Thanksgiving. Because of the hard way of life of those early times and other factors, the day was soon forgotten. (This is difficult to believe if it is true that the pilgrims only set out on Sept. 6, 1620)

The next recorded celebration is the most famous. Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1621. The first winter the Pilgrims had in the "New World" was brutal .Almost half of those who came over on the Mayflower died. Living did eventually grow easier for them tand in fact, the following harvest season was so good and bountiful that the Pilgrims decided to hold a feast for celebration and thanksgiving. This festival, which lasted three days, included nearly one hundred Native Americans. Governor William Bradford invited the indians (natives) to show them appreciation, for helping his colony survive through the horrible weather conditions.

Skip a year. The next thanksgiving celebration did not occur until 1623. This year the Pilgrims were again hit with a great natural hardship, a draught. In the hope of bringing much needed rain, they gathered together in a prayer service. The next morning it started to rain and it rained long and hard for the next several days. When it became clear that the crops (and the colonists) would survive, Governor Bradford declared that they would hold another day of thanksgiving (the Indians were again invited). As other settlers came to the country, they held their own thanksgiving celebrations, but each celebration was independent of other ones.

The first and one-time only national celebration of "Thanksgiving" occurred in 1777 to celebrate the American defeat of the British at Saratoga. Few people count this as a traditional Thanksgiving, but it is in the history.

President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 declared the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving- but it was not a federal holiday. It did not become a federal holiday until 1941. President Roosevelt and Congress passed a bill for the official observance of Thanksgiving in the United States.

Just for more confusion::

President George Washington assigns "Thursday, the 26th day of November next" as the official day of Thanksgiving and signs it with "Given under my hand, at the City of New York, the 3rd day of October, A.D. 1789." His proclamation recognizes a higher power, blessing this nation with a sound government and protected freedoms denied to most of the rest of the world

Canada celebrates a thanksgiving! Canadian Thanksgiving was created by parliment (government) january 31, 1957 to be "A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October."


U.S. Thanksgiving today celebrates and remembers the Pilgrims giving thanks to God in the "new world". The Pilgrims wanted to worship God in their own way, but in their home land, they were not allowed to. Pilgrims became the symbol of freedom for everyone to worship they way you want to, even though they were really only seeking a way for themselves to worship the way they wanted.

To review traditions of Thanksgiving try your hand at our Thanksgiving Traditions crossword.


About thanks: Psalms 69:30, Psalms 95:2, Psalms 100:4