US Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Usually it coincides with the last Thursday of the month, but sometimes it is the penultimate. Along with Independence Day, which is celebrated on July 4, the feast of Thanksgiving is the major national party in this country.
Historical origin of Thanksgiving Day
Historians believe that the first Thanksgiving feast took place in 1621 in the village of Plymouth, in what is now the state of Massachusetts. In the fall of that year European settlers and the Wampanoag Indian tribe met at a banquet that lasted three days.
The aim was to celebrate the end of harvest crops season and also to share with the Indians who, with their advice had prevented the hunger of newly arrived settlers. In September the previous year they had reached the British ship called Mayflower seeking religious freedom in the New World.
After a harsh winter that killed half of them in the spring they decided to definitely disembark. To their surprise they were met by an Indian who spoke English and introduced them to Squanto. This Indian had been kidnapped in an earlier naval exploration and had learned English during his captivity, returning to his homeland in another expedition.
Squanto was a key figure for the survival of Europe as it taught basic skills to face the new environment and get food and, above all, taught them the invaluable knowledge to plant corn, an unknown plant by settlers which became an indispensable element in their diets.
The first feast of Thanksgiving Day
There is no record that tells in detail what they ate at that first celebration. But we do know with certainty that at least five deer and abundant birds were eaten. It is believed that among this category are wild turkeys, geese, swans and patos- well as fish and seafood.
Statement of Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday
For many years in the colonial period and even after Independence, the Day of Thanksgiving was common but there was a set date. Nor it was the same day throughout the country.
But that situation changed in 1863. In the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday and declared that it would be held in all states on the last Thursday of November. Due to the circumstances of war this measure could not be implemented in the southern states until the next decade.
However, during the years of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt defended a breakthrough in celebration of Thanksgiving. His argument was that sometimes November had five Thursdays and this reduced the shopping season culminating on Christmas Day. Moreover, as the country was going through a serious economic situation was appropriate to extend the period of purchases to stimulate the economy.
The proposal was very controversial but finally in December 1941 there was an agreement in Congress and the Senate established by law that Thanksgiving Day would be celebrated in all states of the Union on the fourth Thursday of November .
The importance of turkey
It is not clear if turkey was eaten at the first Thanksgiving celebration, but what is certain is that today this kind of food is the star that day, although there are significant differences by ethnicity and geographical location of the families that celebrate this holiday.
It is believed that the turkey got such popularity as a relatively cheap meat, a bird able to feed a large family. It became popular throughout the country as the United States was expanding westward to be a meal relatively common in army barracks.