The tradition of the a North American holiday is a form of harvest festival. The date and where abouts of the first Thanksgiving celebration is a topic of some contention. The earliest attested Thanksgiving celebration in an area of what would become the United States was held on September 8, 1565 in what is now St. Augustine, Fl.
Most Americans however, believe that the "first Thanksgiving" was held on Plymouth Plantation in 1621.
The United States version of Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of the month of
The period from Thanksgiving Day to New Year's Day is often called the "holiday season" and most people celebrate by gathering at home with family or friends for a holiday feast.
In September of 1565, 600 Spanish settlers under the leadership of Pedro Menedez de Aviles landed at what is now St. Augustine, Florida, and immediately held a Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe delivery to the New World. The mass was then followed by a feast and a celebration. As the La Florida colony did become part of the United States, this then can be classified as the first Thanksgiving.
Explorer Don Juan de Onate ordered a rest and a mass in celebration of Thanksgiving on April 30, 1598 in what is now El Paso, Texas. It was not a harvest festival however and was held later than the one at the La Florida colony.
38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred on the Northern bank of the James River near Herring Creek on December 4, 1619. The area was then known as "Charles Cittie", about 20 miles upstream of the current location of Jamestown, was the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia, established on May 14, 1607.
The group's charter required that the day of the arrival be observed yearly as a "day of thanksgiving" to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodleaf held the service.
During the Indian Massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers of the Berkeley Hundred were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. Berkeley Hundred and other outlying locations were abandoned and the settlers withdrew to the more secure location of Jamestown.
Several years thereafter the site became known as Berkeley Plantation, and was long held as the traditional home of the Harrison family, on of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634 if became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, known as Charles City County, one of the oldest of in the United States. Berkeley Plantation continues to be site of the annual national Thanksgiving event.
The Plymouth celebration was held in 1621. They did not, however hold a true Thanksgiving until 1623, when it followed a drought, prayers for rain, and a subsequent rain shower. In the Plymouth tradition, a thanksgiving day was a church observance, rather than a feast day.
Various Thanksgiving celebrations were held at various times in the followed years and were general set aside as a day of prayer and fasting.
George Washington as the first president of the United States, created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the government on October 3, 1789. He assigned Thursday the 26th of November to be devoted by the People as a day of Thanksgiving (with a lot of flowery language).
It was held irregularly in and around that time frame by successor administrations. It wasn't until 1941 that the U.S. Congress passed a bill requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November. Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill into law on December 26th of that year, setting up the current modern day observance.
U.S. tradition compares the holiday with a meal held in 1621 by the Wampanoag and the Puritans who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This element continues in modern times with the Thanksgiving dinner, often featuring turkey, playing a large role in the celebration of Thanksgiving. Some of the details of the American Thanksgiving story are myths that developed in the 1890s and early 1900s as part of the effort to forge a common national identity in the aftermath of the Civil War and in the melting pot of new immigrants.
In the United States, certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. First and foremost, baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as "Turkey Day"). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, other fall vegetables, and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. All of these primary dishes are actually native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food source to the Europeans when they arrived.
To find out more about the History of Thanksgiving you might try the following web resources:
The History of Thanksgiving from the History Channel
Examines Mayflower myths and offers historical facts about early Thanksgiving celebrations.
The First Thanksgiving from Scholastic.com
Features a picture timeline from 1620-1621, and discusses what life was like in Plymouth for the first Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving Guide at Kaboose.com
Celebrate Thanksgiving in style with crafts, family-friendly recipes, and fall activities.