Do You Really Know How Thanksgiving Started?

Of course I could have written the traditional column about what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving, but I thought this year I would take a different approach. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty in my life that I am thankful for. I am truly blessed and have God to thank for all I have.

I found this short history from the Denver Federal Executive Board web site on the history of Thanksgiving and have re-printed portions here. Take a minute and read this over. It’s a fascinating look at one of our nation’s most loved Holidays.

The initial “Thanksgiving” feast, held in 1621, was really a traditional English harvest celebration. The Pilgrims shared it with the Native Americans because they had taught the colonists to plants crops and hunt wild game. Without the Native Americans, the Pilgrims may not have survived the harsh winter and been able to celebrate their first harvest of plentiful crops in the New World.

At the harvest feast, modern Thanksgiving staples such as pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, corn and mashed potatoes were not served. Since historical evidence shows wild fowl was part of the harvest festival, it is possible that turkey was part of the Pilgrims’ meal. However, an exact record of the menu did not survive over time. Historians believe that seafood and wild game were the main dishes at the autumn celebration since the colonists lived near the Atlantic Ocean as well as the forest.

Even though we think of the harvest festival as “the first Thanksgiving,” the colonists did not use a name for their autumn celebration. The occasion was not called “Thanksgiving” because the word had a completely different meaning to the Pilgrims. To them, a day of “thanksgiving” was actually a religious holiday set aside for giving thanks to God. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the feast we know today acquired the name “Thanksgiving.”

In 1863, President Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. However, since he did not establish it as a national holiday each state had the right to decide when it would celebrate Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until 1941 that Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Dan Polimino is an Owner/Broker with Keller Williams Realty DTC. He can be reached at


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