Why did the pilgrims celebrate Thanksgiving? With such a harsh life in Plymouth Plantation, what was there for the pilgrims to celebrate?
A Reward for Helping
Harvest festivals and feasts were common during the pilgrims' time. These feasts were held in October to celebrate the end of the harvest and all the work that was done to provide food for the winter months.
The pilgrims' Thanksgiving also celebrated having enough food to make it through the rough New England winter. During their first winter, they did not have near enough food. Many of the Pilgrims got sick and some died. In March of 1621, the pilgrims' first spring in the New World, Samoset, an Abnaki Indian, came to visit. He spoke a little English, but not enough, so he introduced the pilgrims to Squanto, a Native American who had been trained in London as a translator.
Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to get maple sap from maple trees, how to make corn and other vegetables grow and where to find the best hunting and fishing spots. In the fall, after the harvest, the Pilgrims had enough food to make it through the winter. They had fruits and vegetables to store and cod that could be packed in salt. Meat from deer and fowl was cured over smoky fires.
Because the colony was built and there was plenty of food, the pilgrims had a good reason to celebrate. They invited Squanto and other indians to their celebration feast. There were 90 Indian braves, including Chief,Massasoit, who attended the festivities. The indians brought five deer to add to the feast. This original celebration took place in the middle of October.
Hardships and Tradition
The next year, the pilgrims' corn and other vegetables did not grow as well. They shared their meager crops with newcomers, and did not have enough food for the winter. The third year, the weather was against the pilgrims. It brought a hot and dry spring and summer, so many of the crops died before they could be harvested.
Governor Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer. Soon after the day of fasting and prayer, it finally rained. The pilgrims were thankful for the rain, so they proclaimed a day of thanksgiving on November 29. Every year after that, the pilgrims would celebrate after the harvest.
Thanksgiving day was not officially named until the late 1770s, when the Continental Congress suggested that a day of thanksgiving be held every year. In 1817 New York State made Thanksgiving Day an annual custom. By the middle of the century, other states also added the custom. President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863, ordering that it be observed on the last Thursday of November.
Behind our romantic view of the first Thanksgiving lies a history of hardship, suspicion and disagreement. Find out what the first months in the New World were really like for the pilgrims.
What do you know about the first Thanksgiving? You'll find some interesting details among these facts about pilgrims.