"The First Thanksgiving" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris.
Hide Caption
Getty Images
Hide Caption

History of Thanksgiving and its customs

a a a a
Share this story

 On Thursday, Americans will take time to give thanks.

While school kids are taught that the origins of Thanksgiving stretch back to the early colonists known as Pilgrims, what they may not know is that it did not become a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln was president.

The first Thanksgiving celebration is said to have happened in 1621 in the Plymouth plantation. History.com stated that a ship called the Mayflower had left Plymouth, England, and landed in the New World with 102 passengers.

They started setting up a village called Plymouth after crossing Massachusetts Bay. After a treacherous winter and disease struck the crew, the remaining half came into contact with an American Indian named Squanto. He taught them to fish, cultivate corn and get the sap from maple trees. He also served as a diplomat, setting up relations between the Pilgrims and the local Wampanoag tribe.

A successful corn harvest in 1621 led to a feast set up by Gov. William Bradford. This three-day celebration is what's referred to as the first Thanksgiving.

But not so quick, other accounts have said. The Plimoth Plantation , a recreation of the Plymouth colony associated with the Smithsonian Institution, states on its website that Florida, Texas, Maine and Virginia have all tried to lay claim to the site of the first Thanksgiving. There were religious celebrations of thanks but they occurred years before the Mayflower sailed across the Atlantic Ocean.

A letter that Mayflowerhistory.com stated was reprinted in 1622 without the permission of the author, Edward Winslow, had described this celebration in a pamphlet that Plimoth.org said was lost then rediscovered almost 100 years later.

In the letter Winslow talked about the corn harvest as well as the subsequent celebration spent with about 90 Indians.

Puritans around New England also had their own "thanksgivings" that they considered as holy days.

History.com stated that the Continental Congress designated days of thanksgiving through the year. President George Washington issued a Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789.

It wasn't until 1817 that New York adopted an annual Thanksgiving. An author named Sarah Josepha Hale, known for the nursery rhyme "Mary Had A Little Lamb," pushed for it to become a national holiday, but it wasn't until Lincoln was president in 1863 that it happened.

He settled on the last Thursday in November, but History.com reported that President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed that in 1939 when he moved it up a week to give retail sales a spike during the Great Depression.

It is an American tradition, but giving thanks for harvests goes back to ancient civilizations who thanked their gods for their bounties.

As far as the bird, History.com said it isn't certain whether that was on the original menu though nearly 90 percent of Americans now eat it on Thanksgiving.

Copyright Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Print this article

Comments

Hmm... It looks like you’re not a WCPO Insider. or Subscribe now to contribute!

More Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving leftovers don't have to be boring
Thanksgiving leftovers don't have to be boring

Every year after Thanksgiving we try to think of ways to use up leftover turkey without repeating the same meal over and over again.

Thanksgiving shopping? Not in states that ban it
Thanksgiving shopping? Not in states that ban it

Shoppers in many states will line up for deals hours after Thanksgiving dinner, but stores in a handful are barred by law from opening on the…

Bugs on menu for Thanksgiving dinner
Bugs on menu for Thanksgiving dinner

A unique — or rather "eww-nique" — Thanksgiving feast is being served up in the Audubon Insectarium's "Bug…

Pass the turkey, then start the money talk
Pass the turkey, then start the money talk

As families gather this week for Thanksgiving dinner, some might have more on their plate than turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Family…

Create a warm atmosphere for Thanksgiving
Create a warm atmosphere for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving makes us want to decorate our homes in a very warm and inviting way. Here are some ideas to make the dining table special this year.

Thanksgiving costs mostly unchanged
Thanksgiving costs mostly unchanged

Here's another reason to be thankful this holiday season - the cost of putting Thanksgiving dinner on the table is down slightly from last year.

9 ways to give back this season
9 ways to give back this season

Thanksgiving is a time of year when people give thanks, but it can also be a great time to give back to those who are in need.

Sandy victims prepare for subdued Thanks
Sandy victims prepare for subdued Thanks

The things that Marge Gatti once cherished are lying on what's left of her deck, spattered in mud, like a yard sale gone awry.

Turkey, pie and politics?
Turkey, pie and politics?

Ah, Thanksgiving. A little turkey, some cranberry mold, maybe apple pie with ice cream, some football on TV. Getting together with the…

Leaving town? Check out gas prices
Leaving town? Check out gas prices

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest travel days of the year and while some are bracing for a long weekend with the in-laws,…