Monday, 13 July 2015

The History Of Thanksgiving Day

Mankind has always celebrated the harvest with a feast and with fellowship. A bountiful harvest meant survival and many blessings to come. Ancient civilizations have documentation that indicate celebrations were held during the harvest season each year. The Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks, and Chinese are just a few people we know who held a festival each season when the harvest was in. The first harvest festival celebrated in North America was in 1621. This is widely considered the first Thanksgiving. Native Americans were happy to share their bountiful harvest with the colonists because the Pilgrims showed their respect to the Native Americans by following the strict hunting and planting philosophies set forth by the local Tribes. By honoring the culture of the Native Americans, the Pilgrims gained their trust and their protection, ensuring the colonists' survival through the first harsh winters. This was indeed something to be thankful for! These early harvest celebrations in North America were not called Thanksgiving. Even though the Pilgrims harvest festival is thought of as the first Thanksgiving, in reality the term Thanksgiving was normally applied to a religious holiday. The term Thanksgiving Day was originally adopted by New York State as an annual event. President Abraham Lincoln declared a National Day of Thanksgiving and since then every president has given a Thanksgiving Day proclamation every year. President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed that Thanksgiving should be held each year on the third Thursday of November. Later, Congress passed a resolution that moved Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of each November and that is when Thanksgiving is officially observed to this day. The early harvest celebrations did not include foods that we recognize as staples at a Thanksgiving feast today. It is entirely possible that wild game was served, including migrating duck, geese, and wild turkey. However, turkey did not hold the sacred place it holds today. It is also believed that seafood was a major component of the harvest celebration due to the colonist's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. There would have been seasonal vegetables and root crops on the table. Squash, potatoes, onions, and late season corn would have been on the menu. Side dishes which we are familiar with today would not have been a part of the feast. Cranberry sauce or relish, and green bean casseroles would not have been served in the early festivals. Also, desserts such as pies and cakes were most likely not included due to the lack of sugar. More likely you would find some late season berries as a dessert offering. As a matter of fact, because salt, sugar, and other spices were a rare commodity, the dishes found at the early harvest festivals would have been quite simple. The Thanksgiving meal we recognize today didn't happen overnight. It evolved over several hundred years. When shipping food became easier, our food supplies became more varied and plentiful. Readily available canned and frozen foods made side dishes like Green Bean Casserole a new standard. Modern conveniences like food processors, microwaves, and blenders have all changed the harvest table over time. Something as simple as the modern oven, refrigerator, and freezer helped to develop our "new traditional" favorite dishes through the years. But, even our traditional favorites can take a hit. During the sugar rationing of World War II, our much loved pumpkin pie was off the table for a time. Seems our table will continue to evolve. We have many reasons to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day - our friends and family, our easy access to food, and the modern conveniences that help us whip up that feast. Early Thanksgiving celebrations were held to rejoice in the gift of a bountiful harvest and the very survival of the colonists. Today, we gather to celebrate our own plentiful blessings and to express our thanks for another year with our loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving! 

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