Thanksgiving in the United States is usually traced back to the Pilgrims celebration of their first successful harvest in 1621. The three-day event was attended by 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans that lasted three days. The tradition of giving thanks for successes was a tradition that the Pilgrims brought with them from England. This three-day celebration in 1621 is considered the first Thanksgiving.
Although there is no record of the menu, it is likely that the meal consisted of food from the harvest, venison, and Indian corn. The local natives killed five deer as gifts for the celebration. Given the abundance of seafood nearby, it is likely some made it to the celebration as well.
Thanksgiving was celebrated during many different times within the colonies, mainly to give thanks for something that was honorable to the colony or the locality that observed the celebration. The first national recognition of a Thanksgiving celebration came when General George Washington declared December 1777 as Thanksgiving honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga. As President, George Washington declared the first national Thanksgiving celebration on November 26, 1789. The only other president to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation was President James Madison. From then, it was up to the individual states to declare a Thanksgiving holiday.
After reading a diary from the time of the Pilgrims, writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale wrote editorials campaigning to bring back the Thanksgiving celebration. As part of her efforts Hale developed recipes for roasted turkey, pumpkin pie, and stuffing that are part of the inspiration for today’s Thanksgiving feast.
Hale’s message made it to the White House where it was embraced by President Abraham Lincoln. As part of his attempt to maintain the union, President Lincoln issued a proclamation that made Thanksgiving Day a national annual event on the last Thursday in November beginning in 1863.
You might not have heard of Hale but you might know one of her most famous poems. In 1830, Hale published Poems for our Children that included one originally titled “Mary’s Lamb.” Today, it is more commonly known as “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Thanksgiving remained the last Thursday of November until 1939 when he declared Thanksgiving to be on the fourth Thursday of the month to give merchants more time to sell good during the Christmas shopping season. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1942 fixing Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November.
In 1947, the National Turkey Federation has provided the President of the United State with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys. President Harry Truman is credited with pardoning the first turkey in 1947 but it did not become a tradition until President Ronald Reagan started in 1987 and continued by President George H.W. Bush in 1989. Since 1989, the pardoned turkeys have lived the rest of their lives at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Virginia.