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November seems to have rolled around fast this year and many Americans will by now have Thanksgiving on their minds. Celebrating and giving thanks with loved ones is something most of us look forward to, never more so than this year.

How and when did Thanksgiving start?

Thanksgiving began as a harvest festival, culminating in a huge feast. The ‘First Thanksgiving’ took place in 1621, when the pilgrims hosted such a feast after their first successful harvest.

A North American Indian tribe, the Wampanoag, had called a truce with the pilgrims who had settled on their land a year earlier. Hence, this celebration is believed to be the first shared feast since the unrest ended between the two groups.

Why do we eat the food we eat at Thanksgiving?

Thanks to the harvest origins, seasonal produce was the highlight and Americans would spend days praying and feasting; appreciating their successful harvest, good health and military victories. Corn, venison and porridge would have been abundant foods at the time.

Today. we recognize Thanksgiving with turkey dinner, mashed potato, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies for dessert. This is largely due to the writer, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, who in the 1800’s campaigned to have Thanksgiving celebrated across the whole of the United States and made an official, national day of celebration.

The writer published recipes involving some of these foods and Americans soon associated such dishes with the annual holiday and therein lie the origins of the traditional foods we recognize today. Pumpkins and turkey are both native to North America and would have been chosen also for their ‘feed a crowd’ size.

The National Holiday

Hale wrote to presidents Taylor, Filmore, Pierce, Buchanan and Lincoln. Her initial letters failed to persuade but eventually Lincoln allowed himself to be convinced to support legislation to establish a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863. In 1941, it was later proclaimed a national holiday by Congress. President Franklin D Roosevelt then formalized the fourth Thursday in November as the official holiday.

Thanksgiving in 2020

The date for Thanksgiving this year is Thursday, November 26. Despite its origins, modern Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, enjoyed by people from all ethnicities. Normally, Americans travel the length and breadth of the country to join with family and celebrate together. However, this year, state by state restrictions may prevent family and friends meeting up in their usual numbers due to the pandemic.

Many traditions will stay the same, including the 94th annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will air from 9am to 12pm on NBC, usually watched by more than 20million. Equally, there will still be football to enjoy on TV during the afternoon too. Happy Thanksgiving!

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