Every year, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. It’s supposed to be an occasion to give thanks, but the story of Thanksgiving isn’t exactly what you learned in school. There’s a lot more to it than just Pilgrims and Native Americans eating turkey and cranberry sauce. Here a few facts and mysterious traditions about this holy celebration.
The first Thanksgiving was held by Arctic explorers at Frobisher Bay in 1578, more than 40 years before the Pilgrims had even arrived at Plymouth. The event became known as the first Canadian Thanksgiving. So when Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving, it has nothing to do with Puritan Pilgrims and Native Americans eating together at Plymouth. They’re commemorating the day the Arctic explorer Martin Frobisher arrived to begin his search for the Northwest Passage.
The first Thanksgiving in what would become the United States didn’t happen until 1621, when the Pilgrims at Plymouth, thrilled that they’d had a good harvest, invited their neighbors from the Wampanoag tribe to join them for a feastserving venison, pigeons as well as swans lobster, clams, and even seal.
After the first Thanksgiving, the Wampanoag chief Massasoit passed away and left his sons, Wamsutta and Metacomet, in charge of the tribe. The Pilgrims invited Chief Wamsutta over for a feast and poisoned him. Then the pilgrims tried to do the same with Metacomet, who however wasn’t about to fall for that one. Instead, he waged war, attacking more than half of the English settlements in America and killing 600 people. The pilgrims finally managed to run Metacomet down, dismembered his body and put his head on a pole over Plymouth, which stayed there for 25 years.
Thanksgiving, for a while, was an awful lot like Halloween. The Thanksgiving Ragamuffin tradition started in Massachusetts when a group of poor children went to their neighbors’ doors begging for scraps of food, asking “Something for Thanksgiving?” The rich kids saw the plight of the less fortunate, and thought it was hilarious, so as a cruel joke, they started imitating them. Since then and until the Great Depression, every Thanksgiving, the wealthier kids started putting on tattered clothes and going door-to-door pretending to be beggars.
Ragamuffin Day, in New York, was even crueler. One of the oddest tradition was the “red pennies”, a penny that had been heated up in the stove until it was so hot to touch children in their costumes would burn themselves, when trying to pick them up in the streets.
Thanksgiving would never have become a federal holiday if it wasn’t for one woman: Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman who wrote “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” Thanksgiving, Hale believed, had a “deep moral influence” that taught families the value of coming together, or as she called it, “in-gathering.” She dedicated more than 30 years of her life to making Thanksgiving a holiday. By 1854, 30 states were observing Thanksgiving, mainly because of her. Finally, Thanksgiving became a holiday to end the Civil War.
But Lincoln wanted it to be a day of public humiliation, prayer and fasting and nothing to do with turkey and gratitude. Lincoln’s holiday was to start with people acknowledging the “Supreme Government of God” and bowing “in humble submission to his chastisements.” Then they were to publicly confess and deplore their sins and transgressions and beg for forgiveness. Lincoln’s hope was that, if America repented of its sins, God would bring an end to the Civil War.
It’s Lincoln’s son Tad that begged for the first turkey’s life after he got the chance to see the animal that would soon be killed, fried up, and placed on his dinner table. But the tradition didn’t exactly catch on right away, though. It took until 1963 before JFK became the first president since Lincoln to let the turkey live – exactly 100 years after Tad Lincoln had saved the White House’s first Thanksgiving turkey. JFK was killed three days later.
Thanksgiving went through one more change in 1939, when Roosevelt changed its date purely to let people spend more money on Christmas presents. And so the president moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the second-last Thursday, purely to boost the economy, which made Roosevelt “a Hitler.” In the end, Roosevelt got everyone to calm down by switching the date again, now declaring that Thanksgiving would be on the “fourth Thursday in November” but “never on the month’s last two days.”
Well I hope you are enjoying your turkey in family and wish you the best for this holy American tradition.