Thanksgiving – Meaning and History
The history of Thanksgiving is fairly complex. On the one hand, this celebration resembles European harvest fests that were, and still are, commonly held in autumn. On the other hand, Thanksgiving is a holiday that could only have originated in the USA and goes back to the 17th century when Pilgrims and Puritans were settling North America.
Starting out in the New World, both groups were facing hard times. To thank God for his support during these times, they held a celebration – together with the Native Americans that had helped them in their first year.
As we all now, New England’s colonies later became the founding states of the USA. Who celebrated the first Thanksgiving and where, is still a matter of debate, though. Some historians name Plymouth, others Massachusetts, and others Virginia. To make matters even more complicated, there were Catholic thanksgiving fests that the Spanish settlers had brought with them to America.
Thanksgiving was soon celebrated all over the country – even more so when the USA became independent from Britain. The fact that this was a religious holiday did not bother the founding fathers, by the way. Even George Washington, not an ardent worshipper by any means, urged his countrymen to “give prayers and thanks to God the Almighty”. Thanksgiving turned out to be a holiday that everybody could celebrate – just the right “glue” to hold the young republic together.
In 1863, another famous US President, Abraham Lincoln, set the official date of Thanksgiving to the last Thursday in November – no surprise, as this date had become widespread already. In 1941, it was slightly changed, but more on that later…