The History Of Thanksgiving Traditions

Published: October 10, 2023

The Significance of Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving is a special day for many people in the United States. It’s a time to remember the past and enjoy the present with family and friends. The History Of Thanksgiving goes back to the early days of the Pilgrims. They had a big feast to celebrate their first harvest in 1621. This day was the seed that grew into the national holiday we celebrate today.

The idea behind Thanksgiving is simple but meaningful. It’s about being thankful for what we have. The Pilgrims started it all in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They were thankful for a good harvest after a tough year. This thankful spirit has lived on for hundreds of years. Now, Thanksgiving is a day to appreciate the good things in life and share a meal with loved ones.

Thanksgiving Day and Modern Traditions 

Now, Thanksgiving Day is full of traditions. Families gather to enjoy a big meal together. The table is filled with tasty dishes like turkey and pumpkin pie. It’s a day to relax, watch football, and start the holiday season. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a big part of the fun too. All these traditions make Thanksgiving a cozy and joyful day. As we look back on the History Of Thanksgiving, we see a simple celebration that has grown into a beloved national holiday.

The Pilgrim’s Harvest Feast of 1621

Plymouth, Massachusetts

The story of Thanksgiving takes us back to 1621, in the small settlement of Plymouth, Massachusetts. This was where the Pilgrims, who had sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower, decided to settle. They faced a harsh winter initially, which was tough. But with the help of local Native Americans, they learned to grow crops in the new land.

By the time autumn arrived, the Pilgrims had a bountiful harvest. They decided to celebrate this success with a feast. This was the first Thanksgiving. It was not just a meal, but a celebration of survival and a show of gratitude to their new Native American friends. They invited the Wampanoag people, who had helped them, to join the feast. This three-day event was filled with food, games, and shared experiences, marking the beginning of a tradition that would evolve over the centuries into the Thanksgiving we know today.

Thanksgiving Advocacy: The Story of Sarah Joseph Hale

Persistent Efforts: Thanksgiving Day As A National Holiday

Sarah Josepha Hale was a determined lady with a big idea. She thought Thanksgiving should be a national holiday. For many years, she worked hard to make this idea a reality. She believed a national day of thanks could help bring people together, especially after the Civil War. So, she started a campaign to get political support.

Letters To Politicians And President Abraham Lincoln

Sarah sent letters to politicians, governors, and presidents to gather support. She wrote many letters over 17 years. Finally, her letter reached President Abraham Lincoln. He liked the idea of a national day of thanks. In 1863, he made a proclamation. From then on, Thanksgiving became a national holiday, celebrated on the last Thursday of November. This was a big win for Sarah, and a new chapter in the History Of Thanksgiving.

Proclamation Of Thanksgiving As A National Holiday

The advocacy of Sarah Josepha Hale reached a fruitful climax when President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the significance of a national day of Thanksgiving. In the midst of the Civil War in 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation that declared the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving. This proclamation not only honored Hale’s persistent efforts but also aimed to unite a nation torn apart by war. By setting aside a day for gratitude and reflection, President Lincoln hoped to instill a sense of unity and hope amidst the turbulent times.

The proclamation by President Lincoln established a precedent that carried through to future presidencies and influenced the manner in which Thanksgiving was celebrated. The tradition of a national day of Thanksgiving continued, and with each passing year, the essence of Thanksgiving evolved to encompass more than just a harvest celebration. The day became a reflection of American resilience, a time to honor historical roots while embracing a growing repertoire of traditions. President Lincoln’s proclamation solidified Thanksgiving’s place in American culture, setting the stage for the holiday’s evolution in the years that followed. Through the highs and lows of the nation’s history, Thanksgiving has stood as a testament to the enduring spirit of gratitude and community, a legacy that continues to be celebrated with fervor and joy.

The Tradition Of Football on Thanksgiving

Emergence Of Football Tradition

Football on Thanksgiving has become as much a part of the holiday tradition as turkey and pumpkin pie. The tradition kicked off not long after the game of football itself was born. The first football game played on Thanksgiving Day was back in 1876 when Yale and Princeton played against each other. However, it was the Detroit Lions who really brought the tradition into the mainstream in 1934. Despite losing to the Chicago Bears that day, the game was a hit, and the tradition of football on Thanksgiving continued to grow.

Notable Games And Teams

Over the years, many memorable games have taken place on Thanksgiving Day. The Detroit Lions continue to be a staple of Thanksgiving football, hosting a game every year since 1934, with the exception of the World War II years. Their enduring tradition has become a cherished part of the holiday for many football fans. Other teams have also become regular participants, with the Dallas Cowboys hosting a game since 1966. These games draw in millions of viewers each year, making them a significant part of the Thanksgiving celebration.

Evolution Of Football Tradition

Nowadays, football on Thanksgiving Day features three NFL games. The Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys host the early games, and there is a rotating schedule for the evening game. These games are a major event, not just for football fans, but for many families who gather around the TV to enjoy the action together. It’s a modern tradition that blends the love of sport with the spirit of Thanksgiving.

An American Tradition

The tradition of watching football on Thanksgiving Day has seeped into the cultural identity of America. It reflects a blend of competitive spirit with a communal celebration, embodying the essence of camaraderie and festivity. As families and friends gather around to enjoy the games, the tradition fosters a sense of community and shared experience that enhances the celebratory atmosphere of Thanksgiving. Over the decades, football on Thanksgiving has become more than just a game; it’s a cherished tradition that continues to unite people in celebration, marking a distinctive and lively aspect of the History Of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving And The Great Depression

President Roosevelt’s Turkey Tactics

During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a decision aimed at boosting the economy. In 1939, he moved Thanksgiving one week earlier to extend the Christmas shopping season. The idea was to help businesses by giving shoppers more time to make their holiday purchases.

The reaction to this change was mixed. Many people didn’t like the change as it disrupted their traditional plans. Some were upset because they felt it disrespected the holiday’s historical significance. Others supported the move, hoping it would help the struggling economy. The confusion also led to the day being referred to as “Franksgiving” by some.

Congress Restores Thanksgiving

The controversy around the date change continued for a few years. In 1941, Congress stepped in to resolve the issue. They passed a law that fixed Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. This decision was a compromise that aimed to respect tradition while still providing an extended shopping season.

The public welcomed the decision to restore the traditional date, and it brought back a sense of normalcy to the holiday celebrations. Since then, the fourth Thursday of November has remained the official date for Thanksgiving. The modern-day observance of Thanksgiving continues to honor this tradition, with many looking forward to the kickoff of the holiday season that it symbolizes. This decision by Congress helped to solidify the modern-day tradition of Thanksgiving, linking it with the beginning of the festive shopping season, a practice that continues to hold economic significance today.

Thanksgiving Today

Today, Thanksgiving is a day filled with cherished traditions. It’s a time for families and friends to come together, share a hearty meal, and reflect on the blessings of the past year. The day often starts with watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, followed by enjoying football games, and culminates in a feast with loved ones.

Across the United States, the essence of Thanksgiving remains the same, but the celebrations carry a local flair. Some regions have unique dishes that reflect their cultural heritage, and others have distinctive events or activities that add a personal touch to the holiday.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a beloved tradition that dates back to 1924. Over the years, it has become a spectacular event that captures the magic of the holiday season. With its giant balloons, floats, and performances, the parade is a festive kickoff to Thanksgiving Day, enjoyed by millions both in person and on TV.

The parade also signals the start of the Christmas shopping season. As the final float, traditionally Santa Claus, makes its way through the streets of New York, it marks the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping frenzy, with Black Friday just around the corner.

Thanksgiving Dinner: The Reason For The Season

The culinary traditions of Thanksgiving are a key part of the celebration. The turkey is often the centerpiece of the meal, surrounded by a variety of sides like stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. And of course, the meal wouldn’t be complete without a slice of pumpkin pie.

While the core dishes remain traditional, many families have added their own twists or introduced new dishes to their Thanksgiving menu. This evolution reflects the diverse and inclusive spirit of the holiday, embracing a mix of culinary traditions that represent the melting pot of America.

Black Friday And The Start Of The Christmas Season

The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, marks the official start of the Christmas shopping season. Stores offer major discounts, and shoppers flock to snag deals on gifts and other items.

The shopping season is a crucial time for retailers, as it often accounts for a significant portion of their annual sales. The buzz created around Black Friday and the following Cyber Monday drives consumer spending, playing a vital role in the economy. The transition from Thanksgiving to the Christmas shopping season showcases the blend of cultural and economic elements that shape the modern-day celebration of this historic holiday.

The Final Cornucopia

The voyage from a modest harvest feast in Plymouth to the bustling, tradition-rich celebration we know today has been a long and evolving one. Through the years, the essence of Thanksgiving has been enriched and diversified by historical events, influential individuals, and cultural shifts. From Sarah Josepha Hale’s relentless advocacy to President Lincoln’s timely proclamation, from the Detroit Lions igniting a football tradition to the Macy’s Parade brightening the streets of New York, the History Of Thanksgiving is a narrative of tradition, perseverance, and communal spirit.

The legacy of Thanksgiving is not just in its historical roots but in its contemporary relevance. The holiday has an enduring legacy of bringing people together, of pausing in gratitude amidst the hustle of life, and of celebrating community over a shared meal. It’s a legacy that continues to be celebrated and cherished across the nation.


Today, Thanksgiving Day stands as a testament to the nation’s ability to adapt, evolve, and come together in celebration. It reflects America’s collective spirit of gratitude, its love for tradition, and its welcoming embrace of modernity. The holiday serves as a bridge between past and present, providing a space for reflection, joy, and togetherness.

The History Of Thanksgiving is more than a series of dates and events. It’s a living narrative that continues to shape and reflect the values and traditions of a nation. As families and communities gather each year to celebrate, they contribute to the ongoing story of Thanksgiving, weaving new memories into an old and cherished tapestry. The richness of Thanksgiving lies in its ability to unify a diverse populace under the cozy umbrella of gratitude and celebration, making it a unique and treasured part of America’s cultural identity.

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