Accountable Healthcare - A quick History of the Thanksgiving Holiday
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November 22, 2023

A quick History of the Thanksgiving Holiday

Thanksgiving is a holiday deeply rooted in American culture, symbolizing gratitude, family, and harvest. Its origins date back to 1621, when the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Native Americans shared an autumn harvest feast. This event is considered by many to be the first Thanksgiving celebration in the colonies.

The Plymouth settlers, who had arrived on the Mayflower, faced numerous challenges. Their first winter was devastating, and they lost almost half of their group to exposure, scurvy, and outbreaks of contagious disease. The following spring, the colonists formed an alliance with the Wampanoag tribe, who taught them vital skills such as how to grow corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish, and avoid poisonous plants. This alliance was crucial for the survival of the settlers.

In the fall of 1621, after their first successful corn harvest, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast, which is now remembered as America's "first Thanksgiving." The Wampanoag leader, Massasoit, was invited, and he arrived with 90 of his men, contributing food to the feast. This three-day festival included meals and entertainment, featuring venison, fowl, fish, and harvested crops.

For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. Lincoln’s proclamation intended to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states. He entrusted the task to Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent writer and editor, who had advocated for a national Thanksgiving holiday for over 17 years through letters and editorials. Her tireless efforts finally paid off, and the last Thursday in November was set as a day of "Thanksgiving and Praise."

The history of Thanksgiving also has a darker side, particularly in the context of Native American history. While the 1621 feast did represent a moment of cooperation, the subsequent relationship between European settlers and Native Americans was marked by conflict and tragedy. Many Native Americans observe Thanksgiving as a day of mourning, reflecting on centuries of displacement and mistreatment.

In modern times, Thanksgiving has evolved into a day characterized by family gatherings, feasting, and giving thanks. Traditional foods include turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Parades and football games have also become integral parts of the holiday.

Thanksgiving serves as a reminder of the historical significance of the Plymouth settlers and their struggle for survival, as well as the importance of cooperation and respect between different cultures. It's a day for Americans to reflect on their history, acknowledge past wrongs, and celebrate the spirit of gratitude and togetherness.