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Thanksgiving: Then and Now

Global Immersions Recruiting - Tuesday, November 21, 2017

In 1620 the Mayflower, a small ship carrying 102 passengers landed in Plymouth. They journeyed across the ocean seeking religious freedom and prosperity. Their first winter in Massachusetts was brutal and many of the original passengers and crew died before they could see the spring. They were greeted by the indigenous people who taught them how to survive in their new environment. They were taught to cultivate the land and how to live off of the land. In the fall of 1621, their successful harvest prompted a celebratory feast and select Native Americans were invited. This is considered to be America’s first Thanksgiving. 

As time passed, more days of thanks were called upon to celebrate the end of droughts and wars. These thanksgivings were held on various days and locations, depending upon what was being celebrated. New York was the first state to adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday. Other states followed, but celebrated on different days. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln initiated the country’s annual Thanksgiving holiday to be the fourth week in November. In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up one week to increase retail sales during the Great Depression. Due to the backlash, in 1941 Roosevelt returned Thanksgiving to its prior date. 

Table are cluttered on Thanksgiving with a variety of dishes. The foods eaten on Thanksgiving are dependent upon the background and traditions of the family as well as the region they reside. The stereotypical Thanksgiving dish for, turkey may not have been eaten at the first Thanksgiving. They are prepared in numerous ways, including roasting, baking and deep-frying. Main dishes of ham, roast beef and lobster are seen. Perhaps the most creative main, turducken is a chicken stuffed inside of a duck, which is stuffed into a turkey. Some regions have specialty dishes. Cranberries can be seen in different forms. About twenty percent of cranberries are eaten during Thanksgiving week. Creamed onions are not seen outside of New England and macaroni and cheese is primarily offered in the South. Perhaps there is something more American than apple pie. Different pies are popular in different regions on Thanksgiving. While New England and the Mid-Atlantic states love their apple pie, the South has pecan and sweet potato pie and the Midwest, and West are known to have cherry pie. 

Although food is the focus on Thanksgiving, it is not the only aspect of the holiday. Parades have become an integral part of the holiday. Since 1924, the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been entertaining millions in New York City and more watching on television from the comfort of their own home. The parade route travels through Manhattan with floats and balloons, marching bands, Broadway performances, celebrity appearances.The finally of the parade is Santa Claus, the symbol the Christmas season has begun. 

Other spectator events include football. The National Football League presents professional games, but community’s gather for high school games. These games are traditionally rivalry games and build a sense of camaraderie within the towns. And if that isn’t enough football, some families will have backyard touch football games.

To counter the large meal, many people participate in Turkey Trots. Turkey Trots are a road running event which are held in numerous towns and cities on Thanksgiving morning. The distances and number of participants vary. These types of events are often fundraisers for local charities.

Each year one or two lucky turkeys are awarded a presidential pardon. These birds are spared from being slaughtered and are sent to a farm for retirement. John F. Kennedy is reported to be the first president to pardon a turkey, but earlier presidents have been rumored to do so. In 1989, George H. W. Bush made the annual turkey pardon a permanent tradition.

Thanksgiving has since lost its original significance. Rather than a harvest festival, it now centers on cooking and sharing a feast with family and friends. While celebrated by most, it is protested by some. Since 1970, protesters have gathered at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, MA on Thanksgiving Day to commemorate the National Day of Mourning. For some, Thanksgiving serves as a reminder of the Native American suffering as a result of European settlers. This day honors ancestors and recognizes the hardships faced by the Native American people. Similar events are held throughout the country. 

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