Thanksgiving festivals have been traditions
of many cultures throughout history
. They often started as harvest
festivals, as many ancient farmers had beliefs that spirits
caused the crops to grow
, and to later die
. These spirits were thought to be released during the harvest, with the possibility they may attack the people doing the harvesting. Some of the harvest festivals celebrated the defeat of these spirits.
The Greeks, for example, had a three-day autumn festival known as Thesmosphoria, where they honored Demeter, goddess of grain. Married women would create shelters made of leaves, and use plants to make couches, which they would place inside the shelter. They would proceed to fast for the next day, and then hold a big feast on the third. Offerings were also made to Demeter, to encourage her to give them a good harvest.
The Romans celebrated Cerelia, to the goddess Ceres, their goddess of grain. The first food harvested would be given as an offering, and then a great feast would take place. This holiday was celebrated on October 4th.
Chung Ch'ui is the Chinese festival for giving thanks, a three-day festival, like the Greek version. The day was celebrated with a feast of roast pig, freshly harvested fruit, and moon cakes - cakes round and yellow, stamped with the face of a rabbit. This is because one of the features of the day is that it is the birthday of the moon.
However, there's more to those cakes, according to legend. During one point when China had been invaded, and Chinese people were without food and homes. They decided to attack the invaders, and used the moon cakes to coordinate the attack. A large number of cakes were made, with the exact time of the attack contained inside the cake. The attack was successful, driving out the invaders.
The Egyptians celebrated in the springtime, their harvest season, to honor Min. There would be great parades, often with the participation of the Pharoah. Huge feasts, sport, music, and dancing were all involved.
History of the American Thanksgiving:
In 1620, the members of the English Separatist Church, a Puritan sect crossed over the Atlantic Ocean in the Mayflower, journeying to the New World. They had fled from England to Holland to escape religious persecution, but felt the Dutch way of life was ungodly. They had to negotiate with a London company to finance the trip, and to protect their financian interests, a large number of passengers were hired for the trip.
They arrived in Massachusetts, the area native to the Wampanoag Indians, on December 11, 1620. Plymouth was built right where an old Native American village of Patuxet was located. They had brought some supplies, but not a lot, and the first winter they dealt with was very harsh, and nearly half of the original 106 people abord the ship had been lost. When the next spring came around, they found that the wheat they had brought for planting would not grow in the soil, and things didn't look good.
Fortunately, a man by the name of Tisquantum (also known as Squanto) was among the Wampanoag tribe. He was originally from Patuxet, but had gone to England with John Weymouth, an explorer, and had learned to speak English. Upon his return after a number of other things happened, he found his old village empty, after all had died of infections brought by the English. He had been living in the nearby Wampanoag village. His ability to communicate with the Pilgrims, and the Wampanoag custom of helping visitors, they started
to teach the Pilgrims how to survive in the New World.
The next few months, Squanto stayed in the village, educating the Pilgrims. He helped by bringing food and supplies, such as venison, and beaver pelts. He helped them learn to cultivate various new plants, such as corn. He pointed out poisonous and medicinal foliage, and gave them countless other skills. They also graduated from the simple small structures they had been living in, to native designs.
With Squanto's help, they not only survived, but started to thrive. There would be enough food to last them through the winter from the great crop yields. They had started to build more traditional european buildings - they had created a log Church.
To celebrate their good fortune, Governor William Bradford decided to hold a feast of thanksgiving. It had been a religious observation in England for them, so they were used to having one. The Pilgrim Captain, Miles Standish, invited a few of the Native Americans to the feast to show their gratitude, as they wouldn't have survived without them. Squanto, Samoset, and the leader of the Wampanoag, Massasoit were invited, along with their immediate families. The Wampanoag tribe also had feasts of thanksgiving - six throughout the year, so it was not new to them. The feast of thanks would last three days.
The Pilgrims were not prepared for the size of their families, as the Native American families were quite large - about 90 came in total. Massasoit, aware that there would not be enough food, ordered some people to go back to their village, for more food. In fact, they ended up supplying the majority of the feast, with such items as deer, wild fowl, fish, beans, berries, squash, corn soup, and corn bread.
Everyone sat at long tables for the feast - this was a new experience for the Native Americans, as they ate sitting on furs or mats sitting on the ground. The Puritans were also exposed to something new - Puritan women stood behind the table, allowing the men to eat first. But the Native American women sat at The table right along with the men. Both groups established a close friendship.
Two years later, in 1623, crops were suffering from a severe drought. The Pilgrims gathered in their church, praying for rain, so they may have enough food at the harvest for winter. The next day greeted them with a nice, steady rain. So Governor Bradford again declared a day of thanks, again inviting some members of the Wampanoag tribe.
However, as the years passed and more settlers came in from England who were unaware of the help of the Native Americans, the friendship disappeared. Many of the newcomers were full of mistrust, and they started showing intolerance toward the Native Americans over their customs, and especially, their religion. By the time the children at the thanksgiving feast were adults, the Pilgrims and Native Americans killing each other.
On June 20, 1676, the governing council in Charlestown, Massachusetts voted on how to celebrate the secure establishment of their community, especially with all the "heathen" Native Americans around. They voted, and The First Thanksgiving Proclamation selected June 29 as their day of feasting.
On October 13, 1777, to celebrate thanks for both the recent victory at Saratoga for the American Revolution, and for more traditional reasons to give thanks, all 13 colonies celebrated a day of thanks.
George Washington himself declared a national day of thanksgiving, though there was not a lot of support for the idea of thanksgiving as a national holiday. In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself disagreed with the idea.
In 1817, the state of New York adopted a Thanksgiving Day holiday. And by the middle of the century, many other states had done the same. Finally, in 1863, after years of the cause being championed by Sarah Josepha Hale, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of Noevmber a national day of Thanksgiving. For a while, each successive president would make the same declaration, though a few presidents did choose a different date. Franklin Roosevelt set it as the next-to-last Thursday, to try and create a longe shopping season for Christmas. People were very unhappy with the change, and it was returned to the last Thursday.
In 1941, Congress decided to sanction the holiday. No longer did each president have to declare it. It was fixed as the fourth Thursday in November.
Thanksgiving Information, http://www.2020tech.com/thanks/temp.html
Thanksgiving on the Net, http://www.holidays.net/thanksgiving/story.htm
The Thanksgiving Story, http://wilstar.com/holidays/thankstr.htm