Thanksgiving Day in the United States is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. It is a day when Americans give thanks for all the blessings received during the year and honor the early settlers and their first harvest feast.
The holiday started in New England and it dates back to the fall of 1621 – the year after the Pilgrims arrived in North America.
In 1620, the Pilgrims left Plymouth in England on a ship called the Mayflower. The ship’s 102 passengers were religious separatists looking for a new home in America, where they could practice their religion freely. On December 11, 1620, after 66 days at sea, the Pilgrims reached a place in North America, which they called Plymouth Rock. The first winter was extremely difficult for the settlers. They had very little food, many of them got sick and about half of them died before spring. The survivors turned for help to the local Wampanoag Indians, who were very friendly and taught the settlers how to build shelters, hunt and catch fish, plant corn, pumpkin and other crops.
Things got better for the Pilgrims in 1621 when the corn and pumpkin harvest turned out to be bountiful and so they decided to celebrate and give thanks to God. In the fall of 1621, the Plymouth colonists invited the Wampanoag Indians to their harvest feast, which lasted for three days. The Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 after the end of a long drought. The custom of celebrating Thanksgiving soon spread from Plymouth to other New England colonies, and in 1863 Abraham Lincoln officially set aside the last Thursday of November as the national day for Thanksgiving.
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed it to one week earlier in order to stimulate the economy by lengthening the shopping period before Christmas. However, Americans did not like this idea and two years later the date of Thanksgiving was changed back to the fourth Thursday of November. In many American households today, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original religious significance and it is mainly a family celebration with festive dinners.
Traditional Thanksgiving food usually includes roast turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. It is estimated that about 46 million turkeys are killed in the United States each year for Thanksgiving. Interestingly, since the first half of the 20th century, presidents of the United States have ‘pardoned’ or saved the life one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year, sending the birds to a farm for retirement.