We are all familiar with the story of the first Thanksgiving when the Pilgrims invited local Native Americans to share a meal with them. But you probably didn’t know that Thanksgiving did not become an annual tradition until more than 200 years later. At the first Thanksgiving in 1621, it wasn’t just one big meal, instead it was a three day festival of eating, hunting, and other entertainment in honor of the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest. The Indians killed five deer as gifts for the colonist, so venison was definitely the first thing on the Thanksgiving menu, and you probably didn’t know that Turkey was not. They also didn’t have pumpkin pie and potatoes.
Which had not been introduced to New England yet, but while they may have been eating cranberries, they would have been served plain not in a sauce or relish. The Pilgrims didn’t plan on starting a Thanksgiving tradition, in fact, they didn’t repeat the celebration in subsequence years. In 1789 George Washington held the first ever national Thanksgiving holiday which took place on Thursday, November 26th, but it didn’t become an annual tradition nationwide until the 19th century.
That’s when American writer, Sarah Josepha Hale, most famous for writing the nursery rhyme Mary had a Little Lamb, was inspired by ‘Diary of a Pilgrim’ to re-create that first Thanksgiving feast. Beginning in 1827, Hale waged a 30 year campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday! She also published recipes for pumpkin pie, turkey, and stuffing that probably didn’t appear on the Pilgrim’s plates, but are now are on the tables as a modern Thanksgiving meal. In 1863, in the mist of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln announced that the nation would celebrate Thanksgiving every year on the final Thursday of November. But you probably didn’t know that in 1939, Franklin Roosevelt, decided to move the holiday up a week to give the depressed retailers more time to make money during
the Depression for the pre-Christmas shopping season.
The move was widely criticized, so in 1941, FDR signed a bill fixing Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November, where it remains today. One of the quirkiest Thanksgiving traditions began in 1989 when Pres. George H.W. Bush granted the first official pardon to a turkey. Every November since then the current oval office occupant has pardoned one or two turkeys free sending them into retirement on a farm rather than a dinner table. Though it only began in the 20th-century, the story has become one of the more unusual stories in the Thanksgiving history tradition.
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