Gather the family around the table for the origin story and traditions of America’s favorite November holiday: Thanksgiving.
Why do we celebrate it? Who was at the first Thanksgiving? Why do we have such a great feast? Buckle your shoes and tie on your hats, pilgrims, we’re heading into story time.
The First Thanksgiving
It was many moons ago that the pilgrims and native indians celebrated the first Thanksgiving. It was named Thanksgiving because the first harvest of the year happened in November and the people were thankful because there had been a drought. The rain did not fall all summer to help the crops grow, delaying the harvest. Many people fasted from food before the harvest, which made them much hungrier when it was finally time to eat.
Once the crops were ready, the pilgrims and indians came together to have a three-day feast full of good food, hunting, and other entertainment. They didn’t eat turkey, pumpkins, or potatoes, some of our Thanksgiving favorites, because they were not common in New England during the late 17th century. Instead, there was deer, indian corn, birds, and barley on the menu. Yum!
The Next Few Thanksgivings
The pilgrims and indians came together to celebrate the fall harvest, but it wasn’t a notable Thanksgiving tradition. It wasn’t on a certain day of the week. It didn’t even happen at the same time each year. But when the crops were ready for harvest, the community would gather together for fellowship, entertainment, and good food.
President Washington Celebrates the Holiday
After many, many years, President George Washington celebrated Thanksgiving by announcing it as a national holiday in late November. The President gathered the people who had been fighting in the Revolutionary War to come together and give thanks for the blessings of a new country.
Thanksgiving as a National Holiday
Despite gathering everyone for a national holiday, President Washington wasn’t the person to make it an annual tradition. Many years after the pilgrims began the celebrations and President Washington celebrated it too, a woman named Sara Josepha Hale began a 30 year journey to make Thanksgiving an official national holiday.
Ms. Hale, the author of the beloved story Mary had a Little Lamb, was inspired by the diary of a pilgrim she read one day and wanted to recreate the feast and share the tradition with her fellow Americans. It took 30 years for her to campaign and make Thanksgiving a national holiday, but she did it in 1857! Thanksgiving would officially be celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November to recreate the original festival between the pilgrims and indians. Ms. Hale also published recipes for roasted turkey, pumpkin pie, and mashed potatoes, which is why we think they are staple dishes in our Thanksgiving celebrations today.
Just Kidding – Changing Thanksgiving
Just when we thought our tradition of Thanksgiving had officially taken hold, President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw us a curveball. During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt changed the Thanksgiving celebration by moving it from the fourth Thursday to the third Thursday of November. He did this to give people more time in the shopping season. Since everyone was suffering during the Great Depression, President Roosevelt thought the extra week could help businesses prepare for the winter gift giving holidays.
Now, We’re Back
After changing Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November during the Great Depression, President Roosevelt changed it back for the next year. Since then, Americans have gathered together to share a feast, entertain each other, and recall moments gratitude from the previous year. While there are not many families and communities harvesting the meal and then feasting together, the symbolism remains strong.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving with your preschooler and other family and friends. From Tiny Turtles Preschool of Jupiter to you, Happy Thanksgiving. We are grateful for you each and every day.