By- Angela Padrón
In the early 1600s, the Pilgrims sailed to New England to begin colonies in the New World. However, the extremely cold winters, combined with malnutrition, illness, and the lack of knowledge of the land and how to cultivate it, caused almost half of the settlers to die.
Those that remained befriended the Native Americans, including Squanto from the Pawtuxet tribe. Squanto taught the settlers how to plant corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish, and distinguish between poisonous plants and safe ones. The Pilgrims also befriended the Wampanoag Native Americans, with whom they shared a feast organized in 1621 by Governor William Bradford to celebrate the Pilgrims’ planting of a successful corn harvest. The celebration lasted for three days.
There is no definite historical record of what the Pilgrims and Native Americans ate during the “first Thanksgiving,” but journal records indicate that the menu included fowl and deer. It is believed that the food was cooked using Native American spices and cooking methods. Typical foods that we eat today on Thanksgiving, such as pies, cakes, and other sweets most likely were not at the first feast, however, due to a lack of sugar and ovens for baking.
Records indicate that the Pilgrims did not celebrate Thanksgiving in 1622 due to a drought, but they did repeat the Thanksgiving tradition in 1623. For decades, people continued to celebrate Thanksgiving. President George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, and New York was the first of several states to declare an annual Thanksgiving holiday beginning in 1817.
Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill designating the fourth Thursday of November as the official day for Thanksgiving each year.
Today, Thanksgiving is a celebration mixed with tradition, shopping, and food. The main course usually revolves around a cooked turkey, though many people today deep-fry their bird! Other foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, corn, and pumpkin pie for dessert.
Many people volunteer at local food banks and charities, while others arrange food drives prior to Thanksgiving for people in need. In addition, since 1924, Macy’s department store has hosted an annual parade in New York City that consists of large balloons, floats, and performances by high school and college marching bands and Broadway performances. Another tradition that began in the mid 1900s is for the president to “pardon” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys to spare them from being killed and eaten. The Friday after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday,” when stores offer sales to entice people to do their holiday shopping early.
Today, Thanksgiving has morphed into a day far different than the original Thanksgiving, which had more religious meaning. The idea of sharing a meal with friends and family still remains at the core of the holiday, however.