We have to say that Thanksgiving is more important than Christmas for people in the United States.
America has written in its constitution the separation of “church” (i.e., religion) and state. And Christmas is a Christian holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday is a holiday that belongs to no one religion and is easily adopted by the millions of immigrant settlers to the U.S. of various religions. Also, the concept of gratitude for whatever one may be is a pretty universal one. What is more, this day is almost completely devoid of commercialization – there’s no pressure to buy gifts and the only expectation is to be around the loved ones and perhaps invite to one’s table one or more strangers who might otherwise be alone that day ….
It is also the only day when America really “stops”.
Let’s take a look now what the origins of Thanksgiving are.
Over three hundred years ago, a little ship, the Mayflower, sailed from Plymouth in England to Virginia in North America. The Mayflower had 102 passengers on board. They were a group of separatists – the so called Puritans who had broken up with the Church of England. They wanted to be able to worship God in their own way. Before they were able to do this, though, they had spent many years in exile in the Netherlands. And so as soon as they could and got a plantation in South Virginia, they started making preparations to set out for the New World. They were rather poor themselves and they had to borrow money (for seven years) from a group of loan sharks in London. Finally, the Pilgrims – as they called themselves – began their voyage in autumn of 1620. They tiny ships fought many storms and strong winds blew the Mayflower northwards. After 64 days of rough voyage, the Pilgrims – instead of finding the warm coasts of South – saw the rocky coast of Massachusett’s. On December 16 the Mayflower arrived at a place already named Plymouth and decided to settle there.
The Pilgrims built simple cabins and huts to shelter during the coming frosty winter. They had never experienced such a cold before and suffered greatly. Nor had they ever experienced such sickness and starvation. Only 50 immigrants out of original 102 survived that winter. Despite all the difficulties the survivors didn’t want to go back to England and the Mayflower returned to her homeland with no Pilgrims aboard.
With the coming of spring of 1621 new hope filled their hearts. The settlers set to work. They built 11 houses – 7 for families and 4 for communal use. With the help of an Indian named Squanto they learned how to plant corn and barley.
In fact Squanto had been kidnapped and aimed to be sold for slavery in Spain. Fortunately enough some monks saved him and taught him how to crop the land. He learnt languages and the Christian faith. Thanks to the monks he regained the trust to white people, but his desire to get back to his tribe never left him. He missed home and prayed to be able to return home. The monks helped him to fulfill his dream but first Squanto went to England and worked for a businessman called Slaney. The company of this businessman wanted to explore the trading opportunities with the New Land. Since Squanto had learnt English and could speak it fluently he was sent to America to work as an interpreter. In 1619 he was able to sail back directly home. But his heart was broken when he saw that plague had ravaged people of his tribe and everybody had died. He was the only one to have remained. He was accepted by the neighboring Wampanoag tribe. And when news came to him that a group of European settlers had set up their camp on the very site of his former village he felt the urge to meet them. They were English, pilgrims. He saw how they struggled to survive and how they prayed for hope. When he saw it he wished to help them. With the blessing and consent of the chief of his new tribe of Wampanoag he went to the pilgrims. At first the settlers feared him as they had heard of tensions with Indians. But when he started speaking in perfect English the Pilgrims were amazed and welcomed him in. In spring Squanto taught the Pilgrims what he had learnt from his tribe as well as from the monks – how to crop and fertilize the land. He was also interpreting for them and helped to make peace with surrounding Indian tribes. Soon Squanto lived with the Pilgrims and in many ways became one of them. In this way Squanto’s broken heart healed just a little bit.
And so the white settlers made friends with Wampanoag Indians and even taught them to play games. Their fall harvest was a success and the Pilgrims could face the second winter with confidence.
The first year of struggle in the New Land had passed and the brave settlers wanted to celebrate it with a real holiday. The Governor of the Plymouth Colony, William Bradford proclaimed December 13, 1621 the day for giving thanks to God. On the first Thanksgiving Day – at dawn – the colonists fired a canon. Then they formed a procession and moved to the meeting house. There they prayed and thanked God for good crops, Indian friends, overcoming sickness, and especially for the possibility of worshipping God in their own way.
After the religious ceremony they feasted for three days. Governor Bradford asked the Indians to be his guests. One hundred and forty people celebrated for three days and a small group of the Pilgrim housewives worked very hard to prepare meals for such a big company. The hunters brought supplies of wild turkey, geese and ducks. The Indians brought deer meat and pumpkins. That’s why pumpkins are both food and decoration on the Thanksgiving tables. They also had fish, clams and oysters. They ate and drank and in the meantime the white men as well as the red men participated in various contests and games or competed in sports.
Although the Pilgrims’ discipline was not so strict on those three days, they did not forget about prayers to thank God for the last good year. The next year, however, was to be another sad experience for the colonists. Because of the lack of food, they did not have a Thanksgiving feast the next fall.
But in fact without Squanto’s help the Pilgrims may not have survived the early time in the new land at all and Squanto lived with them until his death.
The following days of Thanksgiving were not held regularly. Finally, the Continental Congress established eight days of Thanksgiving in the months of April, May, July and December. General Washington proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day for the Continental Army on Thursday, December 18, 1777. George Washington was elected the first President of the United States in April 1789. During his presidency he announced a Thanksgiving Day twice – on November 26, 1789 and six years later. The next Thanksgiving Day was announced by President James Madison at the end of the War of 1812. President Abraham Lincoln was strongly suggested to make it a national holiday. In the result the Thanksgiving Proclamation was announced by Lincoln on October 3, 1863. President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day for the whole nation.
Although the first Thanksgiving was celebrated more than three hundred years ago, the intention and manner of celebration actually has not changed at all. This is a day of prayer and giving thanks. It is a strongly family holiday with whole families getting together with the traditional roast turkey as the main course. Pumpkin pie symbols the Indians’ gift to the first colonists. After dinner, there are traditional games and contests. So the last Thursday in November is a happy holiday, but primarily is it time for giving thanks.
In American culture Thanksgiving is regarded as being the beginning of the fall–winter holiday season, along with Christmas and the New Year.
Turkey has become the cornerstone of Thanksgiving dinner probably because this flightless bird is native to Northern America.
An estimated 50 million turkeys are devoured in the USA every Thanksgiving, according to research by the University of Illinois.
But one turkey each year is ceremonially pardoned by the US president. This year Donald Trump will spare his first turkey as well.
And there emerged also a relatively recent holiday tradition which is Black Friday falling the day after Thanksgiving.
On Black Friday, retailers slash the prices on thousands of products to signal the start of the Christmas gift-buying season.
Get ready then and enjoy our Black Friday with all the fun!