Thanksgiving (1660s- ), also known as the National Day of Mourning, is an American holiday that falls on the fourth Thursday of November. Most Americans have off from work. On that day most families gather together to have a big meal and give thanks for the past year.
The story goes that when the Pilgrim Fathers came to America and made it through their first year, they had a big feast and gave thanks.
The Pilgrims, unlike the fishermen in Newfoundland to the north or the tobacco farmers in Virginia to south, did not come to make their fortune and go back home. They came to make a new home.
As it turns out, the experience of the Pilgrims matches that of many families in America: coming to start all over again, to make a better life, whether they came last year or long ago.
What you might eat on Thanksgiving: turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, maize, peas and carrots, pumpkin pie and so on.
Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a wild bird that the Pilgrims hunted. It tastes like chicken but not quite.
Some big-city stores, like Macy’s in New York, have a Thanksgiving Day parade in the morning with huge balloons, floats, marching bands and, at the very end, Santa Claus. The first Macy’s parade was in 1924.
The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. It is the busiest shopping day of the year, the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It is called black because that is when most shops start to turn a profit for the year. How well shopkeepers do on that day is seen as a sign of whether good or bad times are to come.
What is now called the First Thanksgiving (Pilgrims were not commonly seen as part of Thanksgiving till the 1890s) was in 1621, sometime between September 21st and November 11th. It lasted for three days. In addition to 50 Pilgrims, 91 Wampanoags, the neighbouring Native American people. It helped to make a peace between them that lasted for 54 years.
What they might have eaten:
- deer meat stew cooked over an outdoor fire,
- spit-roasted wild turkeys stuffed with corn bread,
- oysters baked in their shells,
- sweet corn baked in its husks,
- pumpkin baked in a bag and flavoured with maple syrup,
- Indian pudding, made from cornmeal and molasses and topped with sweet wine.
No cranberries, no potatoes, no forks. That part comes from the late 1800s. No pies or cakes – they had no ovens.
The holiday took root in New England and parts of the north, but was slow to catch on in the south. President Lincoln made it a government holiday in 1863, falling on the last Thursday of November. Under President Franklin Roosevelt it was made the fourth Thursday.
For Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a bitter reminder of the destruction that followed. So some of them observe a National Day of Mourning or Unthanksgiving Day instead.
– Abagond, 2007, 2014.