A short history of Thanksgiving

American Thanksgiving can be traced back to 1621 when about 100 European travellers set sail from England, most looking for religious freedom, on the Mayflower.

After landing in Cape Cod in November, these Pilgrims began to settle in the lands of the Algonquin Tribes of present day Massachusetts and New England.

Over half of the new population perished over those first cold months due to inadequate housing and nourishment. The few survivors held a three-day feast to celebrate the harvest and to demonstrate thanks to the native tribes who helped them survive the harsh winter.

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These celebrations were as random as a town desired and were in no means a symbol of national heritage or holiday; simply a celebration of victory over a group of people who had, at least in part, once welcomed and assisted these newcomers to the land.

There was no sense of national holiday in these minor celebrations. The pumpkin pies, the turkey, the cranberry sauce, the three types of potatoes, the gravy… this part of the tradition didn’t even begin to take shape until 1863 when, during the Civil War in hopes of unifying the northern United States, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be a national holiday for the success at Gettysburg – returning to those roots of military or hegemonic victory evident in the thanksgivings of a young colonial society.

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