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Origin of Thanksgiving Day
(サンクスギビング・デイの由来)

Thanksgiving is a very special day in America celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November.  It has a very interesting history. The origin of Thanksgiving Day comes from the 16th century when the first thanksgiving dinner is said to have taken place.

Thanksgiving is many things in the United States: it’s a family holiday as important as Christmas, if not more, it’s the record time for domestic travel, it’s the start of the year-end shopping season that the next day, Black Friday, the famous offers are presented that cause avalanches in stores and greatly increase electronic commerce.  

Turkey for the Thanksgiving dinner
Turkey for the Thanksgiving dinner

And it is also a mark of identity of the country: the date on which the first Europeans in the American territory, the settlers, were grateful for the gifts received. Most of the time the object of gratitude was a good harvest, but there were also less idyllic circumstances to celebrate, such as peace after a battle with the local Indians.

Origin of the celebration of Thanksgiving

A group of about 102 pilgrims, crossed the Atlantic in the year 1620 in Mayflower (a 17th Century sailing vessel). They travelled kept in the cargo space of the sailing vessel for nearly two months suffering extreme conditions. No one was allowed to go on the deck due to terrible storms. The pilgrims comforted themselves by singing sacred Psalms.

The First Thanksgiving (Jean Leon Gerome Ferris)
The First Thanksgiving (Jean Leon Gerome Ferris)

They arrived to Plymouth rock on December 11th 1620, after a sea journey of 66 days. Though the original destination was somewhere in the northern part of Virginia, they could not reach the place owing to winds blowing them off course. Nearly 46 pilgrims died due to extreme cold in winter. However, in the following spring, Squanto, a native Indian taught the pilgrims to survive by growing food.

It is said that Pilgrims learnt to grow corn, beans and pumpkins from the Indians, which helped all of them survive. In the autumn of 1621, they held a big celebration were Indians Wampanoag were invited. The grand feast was organized to thank god for his favours. This communal dinner is popularly known as “The first thanksgiving feast”.  The feast continued for three days and was eaten outside due to lack of space. It was not repeated till 1623, which again witnessed a severe drought.

The first thanksgiving feast with Indians Wampanoag
The first thanksgiving feast with Indians Wampanoag

The meeting between whites and indigenous people marked 7 months of a peace that would last 50 years.  There is however, no evidence to prove if the dinner actually took place.

According to the first hand account written by the leader of the colony, the food included, ducks, geese, venison, fish, berries, etc.  It is not sure if turkey was eaten in the first feast. Pumpkin pie, a modern staple adorning every dinner table, is unlikely to have been a part of the first thanksgiving feast. Pilgrims however, did have boiled pumpkin. Diminishing supply of flour led to the absence of any kind of bread.

Traditional dinner of Thanksgiving
Traditional dinner of Thanksgiving

In 1676 governor Bradford proclaimed another day of thanksgiving.

As the Thanksgiving celebrations in New England spread into other states, colonial governments designated Thanksgiving days to commemorate various public events. During the American Revolution, following the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, the Continental Congress proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. Later on, in 1789, after the promulgation of the U.S. constitution, the President, George Washington, proclaimed another day of Thanksgiving.

New York State became the first state to observe Thanksgiving annually, with many others following. At this time, Thanksgiving celebrations were still not being held on the same day; generally they were held sometime in November. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln appointed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving day. This took place during the American Civil War. When Congress established Thanksgiving as a national holiday after the war, Southerners saw Thanksgiving as a Northern custom imposed on them. However, in the late 19th century, Thanksgiving became a widespread national observance, as Thanksgiving’s emphasis on home and family appealed to all people throughout the United States. Later immigrants also appreciated Thanksgiving as a distinctly American holiday and saw it as an introduction to American values.

Thanksgiving in our days

Nowadays Thanksgiving Day is a traditional day to get a special meal with the family and friends. The meal often includes a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie, and vegetables. It is a time to give thanks for what they have. As more people immigrated to North America, they brought their traditional food to the Thanksgiving tables. Preparing and eating a large meal is a central part of Thanksgiving, in a way contrary to the spirit of the early Pilgrims, who fasted to express their thankfulness to God.

Family praying together over Thanksgiving dinner
Family praying together over Thanksgiving dinner

The memory of the Pilgrims still survives though, in the parades of children dressed up in Pilgrim costume, with their tall hats or bonnets and shoes with large silver buckles and in the images of baskets overflowing with fruits and vegetables, that reminds one of the old autumn harvest celebrations.

Thanksgiving Day Parades-Hero
Thanksgiving-Parades-Hero

Children on the other hand are often not sure what to be thankful for, or they may just be thankful that there is no school on Thanksgiving Day. 

Thanksgiving Day parades are held in some cities and towns on or around Thanksgiving Day. Some parades or festivities also mark the opening of the Christmas shopping season. Some people have a four-day weekend (because most government offices, businesses, schools and other organizations are closed) becoming a popular time for trips and to visit family and friends.

Thanksgiving around the World

1. Canada

The Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated every year on the second Monday of October. The Thanksgiving celebration in Canada is pretty similar to that in America with its turkey and football. But the origin of this festival in Canada can be dated back to 1579, which is almost 40 years before the advent of American thanksgiving which is the most popular one around the world. As history goes, it was first celebrated in Canada by Martin Frobisher in order to express gratitude for the safe completion of their otherwise dangerous voyage. Canada’s Parliament formally established a national Thanksgiving Day (November 6) in 1879; as of 1957, the date was changed to the second Monday in October.   It’s taking from this tradition that the Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving and till now, the essence of the festival remains the same.

Thanksgiving in Canada
Thanksgiving in Canada

2. Germany

Erntedankfest-Thanksgiving in Germany
Erntedankfest-Thanksgiving in Germany

Erntedankfest is the German equivalent of Thanksgiving, usually celebrated on the first Sunday of October.  It’s more religious in its form than the Canadian and American Thanksgiving on the front that most of the celebrations take place in the church. One of the significant rituals in this unique celebration of Thanksgiving around the world is the ceremony in which woven baskets filled with all kinds of fruits and nuts are brought to be blessed by the church and then in an elaborate procession distributed amongst the poor. It is a day to not express gratitude for a good harvest but also sharing the bounty of it with everyone. The other highlights of Erntedankfest include the lantern ceremony hosted especially for children.

3. Japan

Japan’s variation of Thanksgiving, Kinro Kansha no Hi (Labor Thanksgiving Day) evolved from an ancient rice harvest festival, Niinamesai, the roots of which go back as far as the seventh century A.D.  During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the date of the festival was set as November 23, and it has remained the same since then.  The modern tradition of Labor Thanksgiving Day began in 1948, just three years after World War II ended, as a celebration of the rights of Japan’s workers. Today, the public observes it as a national holiday, but with none of the huge feasting you’ll see on the American holiday. Instead, labor organizations lead events at which citizens are encouraged to celebrate the principles of hard work and community involvement. To mark the occasion, children often make thank-you cards for policemen, firefighters or other municipal workers.

Thanksgiving in Japan
Thanksgiving in Japan

Alberto

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