River Cities

A brief history of the Thanksgiving holiday

EARLY TURKEY: Julie and Tomas Trujillo of Miami Springs had an early Thanksgiving dinner last Saturday with their children because Alejandro, 2, and Alisa, 4, will be spending Thanksgiving Day with abuela and abuelo. Besides turkey, the meal included broccoli and cheese, Brussels sprouts, mac & cheese, butternut squash soup and pumpkin pie. “Both kids were involved with the food preparation,” said Julie.
EARLY TURKEY: Julie and Tomas Trujillo of Miami Springs had an early Thanksgiving dinner last Saturday with their children because Alejandro, 2, and Alisa, 4, will be spending Thanksgiving Day with abuela and abuelo. Besides turkey, the meal included broccoli and cheese, Brussels sprouts, mac & cheese, butternut squash soup and pumpkin pie. “Both kids were involved with the food preparation,” said Julie. Gazette Photo

It’s Thanksgiving, a tradition where Miami Springs, Virginia Gardens and Hialeah families unite to give thanks before dining on turkey feasts.

But what happens locally with Thanksgiving is just a slice of what the holiday is all about.

And despite what we learned in history class that Pilgrims in Massachusetts celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621, some historians dispute that claim.

Historians indicate that Indians had a long tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving many years prior to 1621 when Wampanoag Indians observed the first harvest of the new season with a “strawberry thanksgiving.” There’s also proof that in 1564 French Huguenots organized a thanksgiving service close to what is now Jacksonville, Florida. The next year, Spanish documents revealed that conquistadores at Saint Augustine celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass.

Texas historians also say that after Florida, Spanish colonists celebrated thanksgiving with the Manso Indians in 1598 near present-day El Paso, which is a generation before the Pilgrim celebration. There’s also evidence that in 1607 English settlers observed Thanksgiving on the coast of Maine and a pair of Virginia pioneers celebrated the occasion in 1610 and 1619.

Moreover, researchers indicate that our American holiday was observed on different dates. From the days of General George Washington until the time of President Abraham Lincoln, the date Thanksgiving was celebrated differed from state to state. It wasn’t until the early 19th Century that the last Thursday in November became the holiday’s official date. Thanksgiving was originally observed on the same date by all states by a presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Then in the mid-20th Century on Dec. 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday.

In addition to Thanksgiving dates and its founders, much has changed regarding the history of its meal. Nowadays, many people congregate around dining room tables feasting on turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes and pumpkin pie.

However, some historians state that the first Thanksgiving meal partaken by Pilgrims and Indians in 1621 was quite different from today. All historians know for sure is that Pilgrims and Indians ate wildfowl, venison (deer meat) and corn and that Pilgrims may not have eaten turkey. As for stuffing, Pilgrims and Indians didn’t have flour or ovens back then, so historians are certain that bread-based stuffing was not part of the first meal. Meanwhile, cranberries are native to North America and were eaten by Americans many years before the first Thanksgiving. Potatoes (white or sweet) had not arrived in North America during the time of the first Thanksgiving. White potatoes originate from South America, whereas sweet potatoes come from the Caribbean. Like stuffing, pumpkin pies weren’t part of the original Thanksgiving meal because Pilgrims didn’t have access to stoves.

Another misconception about the holiday is it’s strictly an American tradition, but that’s not true. On the second Monday in October, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving to give thanks to the end of harvest season. In fact, it isn’t America but Canada that was the first nation to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Martin Frobisher, an artic adventurer, originally celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in 1578 over 40 years before the Pilgrims arrived on Plymouth Rock. Today, Canadians celebrate the occasion much like Americans with a turkey dinner, family gathering and football. Thanksgiving is regarded as a statutory holiday throughout every province in Canada except in Atlantic Canada.

In addition to the U.S. and Canada, other nations observe Thanksgiving. In Liberia (the West African country), Thanksgiving is celebrated on the first Thursday of November when Liberians go to their houses of worship (mostly Christian churches) where fruits of the harvest are auctioned after the service. After church, people head to their homes to feast (at a smaller scale than what Americans do). Another nation, Norfolk Island, celebrates Thanksgiving on the last Wednesday of November, similar to the pre-World War II American observance on the last Thursday of the month. Guests who sailed on American whaling ships brought the holiday to the island.

In the West Indian island of Grenada, Thanksgiving is observed on Oct. 25. Unlike the Canadian and American versions of the holiday, Grenada’s Thanksgiving marks the U.S.-led invasion of the island in 1983, in response to the execution of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. The Netherlands also observe Thanksgiving as many Pilgrims who migrated to the Plymouth Plantation lived in the city of Leiden from 1609 to 1620. To honor this, a non-denominational Thanksgiving Day ceremony is conducted each year on the morning of the American Thanksgiving Day in the Pieterskerk (a Gothic church in Leiden), to honor the hospitality Pilgrims received in Leiden on their journey to the New World.

Germany and Japan also celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving. Germany hosts the Harvest Thanksgiving Festival (Erntedankfest), which is an early-October German Christian Jubilee. The German celebration has an important religious theme to it, but like in North America, it includes huge harvest dinners (consisting mainly of autumn crops) and parades.

Meanwhile, Japan hosts Labor Thanksgiving Day (the country’s national holiday) that is celebrated annually on Nov. 23. A law created during the American occupation after World War II states the holiday date represents praising production, labor and giving each other thanks.

So on Thursday as you’re sitting by the dinner table enjoying your turkey feast with family and friends, just remember the rich history of our American tradition and how Thanksgiving is celebrated in other nations.

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