William Arthur Ward once said, “Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, can change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” This properly explains the significance of keeping gratitude towards real life for an individual. Traditionally, the people of the United States will stop to express their gratitude for the good fortune that they enjoy, no matter as individuals or as a nation, on the fourth Thursday of November every year. However, the idea of selecting a specific date to express gratitude does not originate from this country. In ancient times many people in different countries or areas held their own festivals in the autumn to give thanks for bountiful harvests specially, such as the Greeks’ honor towards Demeter, the Romans’ paying tribute to Ceres and the Anglo-Saxons’ rejoicing at a harvest home that featured a large feast (Hillstrom 4). Similarly, as one of the most treasured American holidays and traditions, Thanksgiving stands with historical origins of this state and permeates into citizens’ life as well as connecting with some basic American values including perseverance, freedom, and democracy.
In the United States, the emergence of Thanksgiving could date back to the beginning of American history. Originally, the Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America results from the Protestant Reformation. Days of Thanksgiving and special Thanksgiving religious activities have emerged and become important during the period of the reign of Henry VIII (Hillstrom 22). The Protestant Reformation in 1536 reduced the number of Church holidays to large extent, which were to be replaced by so-called Days of Fasting or Days of Thanksgiving, in response to events that Puritans viewed as acts of special providence (23-24). Several days of Thanksgiving were held in early New England history that have been identified as the “First Thanksgiving”. In 1620, almost 100 Pilgrims left England and founded the colony of Plymouth in New England. Because of the lack of shelters and foods, many of them had sickness, even death, during the first winter. Fortunately, those native Americans, who lived in this area before the Pilgrims’ arrival, taught the Pilgrims what crops to grow in the spring of 1621. Pilgrims expressed their appreciation for their harvest by inviting the Pilgrims to enjoy wild turkey for their first Thanksgiving (Peppas 10-14). Although, the “First Thanksgiving” was born in 1621, but it would take more than 150 years before the universal acceptance of this holiday for all 13 colonies, in October 1777. Later, beginning with Abraham Lincoln in 1863, every president had followed tradition and set aside the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day until 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that the federal government would recognize Thanksgiving on November 23 instead of 30 (Hillstrom 33). In 1941 the U.S. Congress decided to establish Thanksgiving as a federal holiday to be held on the fourth Thursday in November annually (34). As time went, Thanksgiving Day has already become an inseparable part of American culture which has a continuous impact on people’s life.
With great transmission, the observance of Thanksgiving Day in the United States is rich and colorful. Citizens celebrate this special festival by sharing a big dinner. Served with cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, turkey is exactly the main course for traditional Thanksgiving dinners, following with pumpkin pie. Even in this day and age, some of the Pilgrims’ foods are also present at the Thanksgiving dinner in honor of the history that native Americans impart skills of survival to the Pilgrims (Peppas 16-17). In addition, Americans are fond of singing traditional songs and hymns. Especially, there is a famous Thanksgiving song called “Over the River and Through the Woods,” which was written by Lydia Maria Child in 1844. And the lyrics describe a travel of her about a Thanksgiving dinner in her grandparent’s home (18-19). What’s more, consisting of floats, clown and marching bands, the Thanksgiving Day parade have been held in many big cities. As for the holiday’s sport, many football teams will play games on Thanksgiving Day. The National Football League’s competition is called the Thanksgiving Day Classic (24-25). Besides, a popular and recognizable symbols of Thanksgiving is the cornucopia, which is also called a horn of plenty. In fact, it is a horn or a basket filled to overflowing with fruits, vegetables, grains, and sometimes flowers. For Thanksgiving, people decorate with pumpkins and corn (20-21). Gathering together to watch holiday’s activities or enjoy the turkey dinner is wonderful, but the true reason for this holiday is to give thanks for the good things in lives. Many Americans attend church on Thanksgiving to express gratitude for the blessings they received during the previous year. And some Americans view Thanksgiving as a patriotic holiday which is a good time to reflect on the basic principles and values that made the country great.
Like many special festivals’ being celebrated in memory of the honor of some special events, people or cultural heritages, Thanksgiving also embodies the importance of some basic values. Added to the holiday’s historic importance and meaning, the connection between Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims is associating with the value of perseverance. The Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic, struggled with the harsh environment and suffered great hunger, even death, which has changed into an indefatigable spirit and inspirited Americans. The reestablishment of Thanksgiving after the Union victory in this ruthless Civil War could manifest the value of freedom. Basically, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday to help bring Americans together during that period of chaos. He proclaimed to set the last Thursday of November each year as a national day of Thanksgiving (Hillstrom 179). This declaration expressed and emphasized the wish that the holiday would be celebrated by all Americans without distinguishing the ages, genders, races and regions in gratitude for the country’s many blessings. Since that, thanksgiving has indeed been a symbol of solidarity and freedom; the observances of Thanksgiving have gradually spread westward and southward in the mid-1800s. As for the economic importance of Thanksgiving, it was strengthened during the Great Depression in 1930s, which could also be an evidence of the connection between this holiday and democracy (Hillstrom 189). For stimulating the domestic demand and economic resurgence, Franklin D. Roosevelt made a decision to reschedule the date of Thanksgiving, forward one week in order to extend the holiday season and give consumers more time for Christmas shopping (190). As a matter of fact, this policy did not bring remarkable increase in retail sales and many Americans disapproved of that, but the initial intent is to recover the desolate domestic economy and idea that utilize a certain festival to encourage consumption has profound and lasting influences. By the early 20th century, Thanksgiving had become a tool to teach new immigrants about American history and values.
From the time of the Pilgrims through America’s colonial days, Thanksgiving has been a dignified and prayerful festival when people express their gratitude for the harvest and good fortune. Its development companions with American history and mixes into the native culture, value and people’s life. Despite with controversy, however, Thanksgiving has endeared itself to the American public and remained in their life for more than three centuries. There is no doubt that the means and meanings of celebrating Thanksgiving have inherited from generation to generation throughout the history of the United States always.