Last Thursday of November: on this day, every year, in the USA we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. At the base of this holiday, which is also one of the most beloved and awaited of the year, there are now many well-established customs and beliefs. But what you may not know is that many of them have their roots in American history. Let’s discover together what are the main Thanksgiving traditions and where they come from.
First Thanksgiving Day
We commonly date the first day of Thanksgiving back to 1621. That year in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the pilgrim fathers who had left England for the New World, after almost starving to death during the journey and learning to farm from Native Americans, gathered to thank the Lord for the good harvest.
However, at least a couple of traditions trace the origin of the holiday back to before then. The people of San Elizario, Texas, claim that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1585 by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate, who survived, with 500 followers, the crossing of the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico. As soon as the thirsty travelers arrived at the Rio Grande, they made a run of water and fish. While Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendes de Aviles may have celebrated the feast in Florida in 1565, along with 500 soldiers and hundreds of Amerindians Timucua.
Thanksgiving Traditions – The Turkey Pardon
Every year, the President of the United States symbolically “saves” a turkey, while millions of others end up on American tables. The Thanksgiving traditions of breeders sending the best animals to the presidents dates back to the 19th century. However, the first to pardon a turkey in an official capacity was John F. Kennedy. In 1963, the President sent a bird back to the National Turkey Federation saying “We’ll let it grow”. In 1987 Ronald Reagan also pardoned a turkey for fun, and so did George H.W. Bush in 1989, effectively starting the tradition of “presidential pardon”. |
Although people have been celebrating Thanksgiving since 1600, it was only in 1700 that each state began to establish a day of celebration for this tradition. In 1789, George Washington, then commander of the Continental Army, proclaimed that a national day of public thanksgiving and prayer should be observed. But it was Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, who set the last Thursday of November as the date.
Thanksgiving Traditions – Turkey and Seafood!
It is not certain that in the first Days of Thanksgiving people consumed the same dishes as today. This doubt doesn’t even spare the food that is the symbol of thanksgiving, that is the turkey. In fact, it is likely that initially the main meat was the wild deer hunted by the Wampanoag Indians (those who would have helped the Pilgrim Fathers). The settlers instead would have preferred duck or turkey geese. And there was certainly no shortage of seafood in these first banquets, including lobsters, clams, mussels and eels. Blueberry sauce and sweet potatoes would only appear on the menu later.