The Holiday For Americans All Around the World
As the weather gets colder and autumn passes by, I realize that many holidays are celebrated this month. Halloween; Yom Kippur and Hoshanah Rabba for the Jewish; the Day of Ashura for Muslims; and Diwali for Hindus are all important holidays observed in October. However, as an American, I find that one important holiday is coming in November: Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving is a holiday that celebrates thankfulness for what one has, time with friends and family, and of course, lots of food. The most common foods eaten on the holiday include roasted turkey, pumpkin pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetable casseroles, and mashed potatoes.
So, if you’re not American, you’re probably wondering, “What really is Thanksgiving?” Well, it’s a long story…
The Story behind Thanksgiving
The tale of Thanksgiving begins in September 1620, with a ship called the Mayflower setting off for the New World from Plymouth, England. On this ship was a group of 102 English religious Separatists, now known as the Pilgrims, who faced religious persecution because they did not want to belong to the Anglican Church, or the Church of England. They wanted to leave England to start a new life in the New World – a life of religious freedom, land ownership, and prosperity. After a long and dangerous journey across the Atlantic Ocean that lasted more than three months, the Pilgrims finally landed in Massachusetts Bay in the present day state of Massachusetts, an area much farther north than the Hudson River, where they originally wanted to settle.
The Pilgrims spent their first winter in the New World on board the ship, living in extreme conditions. They were exposed to the cold and many contagious illnesses. When spring came, only half of the original 102 passengers survived the winter. Those who did survive moved onto the mainland and tried building their own village, naming it the Plymouth Colony after their old hometown. Trying to make ends meet, they were visited by an Abenaki Native American, who was able to communicate with them in English. In hopes of building relations, the native returned to the village several days later with a Pawtuxet Native American whose English name was Squanto (his Native American name was Tisquantum), who was also able to speak English.
Squanto is a very important figure in American history. Born around the year 1580 near Massachusetts Bay, his childhood was a lot like any other Pawtuxet child. He was taught how to hunt, plant crops, and swim. But in 1605, when he was only 15 years old, an English explorer named Captain George Weymouth kidnapped Squanto and four other Native Americans along the Maine coast and took them back to England. Weymouth brought Squanto to Ferdinando Gorges, a man who taught him English and hired him as a translator. In 1614, Squanto returned to Massachusetts Bay alongside English explorer John Smith (who would later establish the colony of Jamestown in Virginia) to act as a guide.
During this trip Squanto was kidnapped again, this time by another English explorer named Thomas Hunt, who took him to Spain and forced him into slavery. Squanto was able to escape, and lived with a group of religious monks for a few years before finally returning home to the New World in 1619. Sadly, when he got there, he discovered his entire tribe had died from the spread of smallpox by European explorers. Soon he moved in with the Wampanoag Native Americans, another local tribe.
In 1621, Squanto helped the struggling Pilgrims prosper in their new home. He taught them which plants were poisonous and how to avoid them, instructed them in cultivating corn and extracting sap from maple trees, and showed them the best techniques to catch fish and seafood in the bay. He even helped them negotiate an alliance with the Wampanoags, which would end lasting half a century.
Towards the end of 1621, in November, the Pilgrims organized a three day feast to celebrate their first harvest that was reaped after a harsh winter, and they invited the Wampanoag Native Americans to join. The feast included venison, corn, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, deer, and squash. This is known as the “First Thanksgiving.”
Thanksgiving was proclaimed a national U.S. holiday in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an attempt to encourage retail prices during the Great Depression. He later signed a legislative bill making the holiday the fourth Thursday of November.
Although the holiday is an American tradition, anyone can be thankful for what they have. Counting your blessings, especially during the holiday season, really humbles a person and makes them feel appreciative for all the good things in life. So be thankful for what you have, and remember the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags enjoying their harvest together.
Bibliography and More Information
Gambino, Megan. “What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving?” http://www.smithsonianmag.com N.p., 21 November 2011. Web. 8 October 2016. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-was-on-the-menu-at-the-first-thanksgiving-511554/?no-ist
“History of Thanksgiving.” http://www.history.com/ A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 8 October 2016. http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving
“Squanto Biography.” http://www.biography.com/ A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 8 October 2016. http://www.biography.com/people/squanto-9491327#death
By Roma (MYP4)