Voice of London

History of Thanksgiving: Why does the US celebrate it?

History of Thanksgiving

Imagine a day when the aroma of roasted turkey fills the air, families gather around tables laden with hearty feasts, and a sense of gratitude pervades the atmosphere. It is Thanksgiving in America, deeply woven into the nation’s fabric. But beyond the festive cheer, have you ever wondered how this day came? Let’s journey through time to uncover Thanksgiving’s rich history and cultural significance.

Historical Origins

Let’s rewind to 1621, in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims, having endured a harsh first year in the New World, celebrated their first bountiful harvest. They weren’t alone; the Wampanoag tribe, who had been instrumental in helping the Pilgrims survive, joined in. Although idealized over the years, this moment of unity and gratitude marked the beginning of a tradition we now know as Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving as a National Holiday

Fast forward a few centuries, and enter Sarah Josepha Hale, often dubbed the ‘Godmother of Thanksgiving.’ With a pen mightier than a sword, Hale campaigned relentlessly for a national day of thanks. Amidst the Civil War’s turmoil, President Abraham Lincoln heeded her call, proclaiming Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. This gesture of unity and gratitude was set to be observed annually on the last Thursday of November, a tradition that continued until Congress fixed the date in 1941.

Cultural Significance

From lively parades to the President’s ceremonial pardoning of a turkey, Thanksgiving is brimming with traditions. For many, it’s synonymous with football and family reunions. At the heart of it all is the Thanksgiving meal – a feast that symbolizes shared abundance and blessings. It’s not just about the food but the stories shared and memories made around the table.

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Thanksgiving in Modern Times

Today, Thanksgiving mirrors the contemporary American ethos. It’s a day for reflection, appreciation, and togetherness, transcending its historical origins. It also marks the beginning of the holiday season, with Black Friday sales kicking off a shopping frenzy. This shift reflects the nation’s evolving lifestyle and consumer culture.

Thanksgiving Controversies and Criticism

But there’s another side to this story. Thanksgiving, for some, is a reminder of historical inaccuracies and the painful legacy of colonialism. Critics argue the holiday glosses over the struggles and injustices faced by Native Americans. Today, there’s a growing movement to acknowledge this side of history, making Thanksgiving a more inclusive and reflective holiday.

Global Influence of Thanksgiving

Interestingly, Thanksgiving’s spirit has crossed borders, inspiring similar celebrations worldwide. While each country has its unique twist – be it Canada’s October Thanksgiving or Germany’s Erntedankfest – the core idea of celebrating harvest and togetherness resonates universally.


As we gather each year to celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s worth pondering the tapestry of stories, traditions, and meanings behind this day. It’s a celebration that has evolved and adapted, reflecting America’s diverse and dynamic spirit. So, as you pass the gravy and slice the pie this Thanksgiving, remember you’re partaking in a tradition that’s as old as America itself, one that continues to evolve and inspire.

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