Thanksgiving Celebration Tradition

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Thanksgiving is a well-known celebrated tradition of the United States and is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Anyone can celebrate the special holiday how they choose or choose not to celebrate at all. The United States has shaped Thanksgiving into their own culture. Thanksgiving has changed drastically over time. Like many other historical events and stories, thanksgiving’s meaning in the United States has changed from its original reason of celebration.

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Thanksgiving Day is a detailed record from Salem Press, a publisher of reference works. Based off of the information given, the Pilgrims came to the new world on the Mayflower. Almost a hundred of the passengers passed away during the winter season. The survivors built wooden houses and planted crops with the help of the natives during spring and winter. The surviving pilgrims invited the neighboring tribe to enjoy the successful harvest. The Wampanoag Indians brought five deer (Thanksgiving Day). This is the story children are taught in school about the origin of Thanksgiving and the beginning of the United States.

Myths are very common when it comes down to past events. A myth is a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events. The article, Investigating the First Thanksgiving, is by Jacqueline M. Keneipp, a graduate from Indiana with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. The article states that Americans see the first Thanksgiving with images of Pilgrims and Indians sitting at a long banquet table eating turkey and pumpkin pie (Keneipp). Historians have used sources from the harvest festival to prove the modern story, of the first Thanksgiving, incorrect. The harvest festival is primary sources historians accept as the true first day of the holiday (Keneipp).

The Making of the Domestic Occasion:

The History of Thanksgiving in the United States, is a journal of social history written by Elizabeth Pleck- a graduate from the University of Illinois. The journal gives insight on the first Thanksgiving and how it change overtime. It is noted that the first celebration was in November of 1612. The pilgrims sailed the ocean and came to America where they met the Wampanoag Indians. The story goes that they celebrated a successful harvest and ate happily together but the following history of what happened after getting comfortable on the new land is not taught. Thanksgiving Myths, Legends and Lies: Why Settlers Really Started the Annual Feast, was written by Grace Donnelly from a multinational business magazine. After the pilgrims got comfortable, they used small pox blankets to get rid of the natives (Donnelly). The article mentions how the encounter between the pilgrims and Indians was not as sweet as everyone thinks (Donnelly). The celebration in 1621 did not mark a friendly turning point and did not become an annual event. Relations between the Wampanoag and the settlers deteriorated, leading to the Pequot War, Donnelly states.

In her work Donnelly explains that President Lincoln issued the proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1863 to bring the Indian and Pilgrims together and end the war (Donnelly). The celebration was also encouraged by a magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale. She would encourage the legalization of the holiday in Godey’s magazine and write letters to the military and governors telling them to celebrate (Pleck). Godey’s was a magazine with a circulation of 150,000 and the largest periodical of its kind in the country (Thanksgiving Day). Also, the confederates and the Union were separated and at war with each other, the union won. The battle of Gettysburg had a role in Lincoln making Thanksgiving a legal holiday (Thanksgiving Day).

After it became a national holiday, the meaning of thanksgiving started changing to a holiday of family homecoming (Pleck). Pleck also states how the second most celebrated holiday became a holiday of American civil religion. Instead of being thankful for the crops and successful harvest, Lincoln praised God for prosperity, blessings, and peace. Thanksgiving gained a new meaning during the Progressive era. Attending church was no longer required but it was expected to say grace before eating. Public schools used immigrant children to bring American culture into their homes. They encouraged the children to enjoy American celebrations and no longer stressed the history of Thanksgiving. Pleck states that, In the Progressive era, teachers did not emphasize the Protestant origins or meanings of thanksgiving, and instead portrayed the holiday in secular, nationalist terms??¦ (Pleck). During the 1870s, teachers started giving students pictures and symbols to draw and color. The child would bring home the ideas learned from class and share it with their family (Pleck).

Around the late 1800s, people in the west thought of the holiday as a hunting day and people in the south considered it a Yankee day. Pleck mentions that Thanksgiving Day, in the early nineteenth century, began with church and ended the day with a feast. The men would target objects or wild turkeys and win a prize. This could take place before or after church. Blacks still thought of Thanksgiving as a religious holiday around 1900 and attended church the morning of (Pleck).

The Macy’s Day parade symbolized commercialization. It started in 1924 and advertised shopping for the next upcoming holiday, Christmas. Thanksgiving themed table settings and cards were also sold during this time. Gifts, such as the Bible, were exchanged in the early nineteenth century but is no longer done. Football became a popular sport watched on the fourth Thursday of November in the late 1800s when a college championship game was scheduled on that day. Soon after the first game of 1876, many college and high school teams were playing on Thanksgiving Day. In the 1900s it became an inside sport over the radio and by 1956 the games made it to television screens. Women and men were separated during the celebration. The men would sit and talk over food and the game while the females worked in the kitchen and talked with other women (Pleck).

Thanksgiving is not what it used to be. The holiday is celebrated with different foods that are now considered the traditional meal of the special day. Outdoor activities are less common than it was in the past. The United States do not speak on details about the important history that created the tradition and encouraged it. Televised games, eating a huge meal, and being thankful for God’s blessings is the modern day Thanksgiving.

Work Cited

  1. Donnelly, Grace. “Thanksgiving Myths, Legends and Lies: Why Settlers Really Started the Annual Feast.” Fortune.Com, 21 Nov. 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost,
  2. Elizabeth Pleck, author. “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States.” Journal of Social History, no. 4, 1999, p. 773. EBSCOhost,
  3. Jacqueline M., Keneipp. “Investigating the First Thanksgiving.” OAH Magazine of History, no. 3, 2004, p. 68. EBSCOhost,
  4. “Thanksgiving Day.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2015. EBSCOhost,
  5. Wallendorf, Melanie and Eric J. Arnould. “We Gather Together”: Consumption Rituals of Thanksgiving Day.” Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 18, no. 1, June 1991, pp. 13-31. EBSCOhost,
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Thanksgiving Celebration Tradition. (2019, Mar 29). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from

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