By Rachel Davis
Thanksgiving is an American holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November. Today, Americans celebrate by gathering with their friends and family to recognize the things they are grateful for with a huge meal. A typical meal would be comprised of turkey, stuffing, corn, cranberries, bread, and pumpkin pie.
Overall, it is a great holiday, but the history behind it is often simplified in the US. Not many Americans have a good understanding of how the first Thanksgiving came to be.
In 1620, the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Though aiming for New York City, the winds created a difficult journey to the ‘New World’, so they landed in Plymouth instead. The Pilgrims were a group of English protestants, sailing to separate themselves from the Church of England. After being funded by merchants in England, they were able to sail for 66 days across the Atlantic Ocean, where they reached to what is now known as Cape Cod.
The Pilgrims in Winter were helpless. 45 of the 102 settlers died during the first winter (1620-21). The lack of shelter left them exposed to the cold, and diseases such as scurvy and pneumonia hit hard, and the only available food was from the ship. To their aid, a Patuxet native named Squanto helped teach the settlers to fish, use fish as fertilizer, and grow corn.
Squanto was a former slave, previously abducted and taken to England. He escaped in 1619, and lived with the Wampanoag tribe after his return. Fluent in English, he was able to communicate clearly with the settlers. A peace treaty was negotiated between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation.
To celebrate, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags held a feast and the Wampanoags provided turkey. Other things believed to be served were fish, shellfish, vegetables, and beer. Along with eating food, they raced each other, played games, drank, and fired guns. Both tried communicating in the other’s language as well.
Thanksgiving had spread all across the US by the beginning of the 20th century. The pilgrims were symbols of freedom and good citizenship to children. Schools emphasized the holiday by hosting parties in the classroom to celebrate. Immigrant children learned Thanksgiving traditions, most notably serving a turkey, and were encouraged to celebrate the holiday with a turkey to become ‘more American.’
Though the history is vague in the minds of many Americans, the core meaning of the thanks and gratefulness is still very much present. As the generations went on, Thanksgiving still thrived in American culture, and will continue to for many years ahead.