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Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the United States!

Joerg says: I'm European so Thanksgiving doesn't hold the same importance for me as it does for most of you in North America. Apart from wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving I've decided to give you some historic background on Thanksgiving as it is celebrated in the US and Canada (thanks to Wikipedia):

Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a traditional North American holiday to give thanks at the conclusion of the harvest season. Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States and on the second Monday of October in Canada.

United States

In the United States, Thanksgiving is a four day weekend which usually marks a pause in school and college calendars. Many workers (78% in 2007) are given both Thanksgiving and the day after as paid holidays.

Thanksgiving meals are traditionally family events where certain kinds of food are served. First and foremost, turkey is the featured item in most Thanksgiving feasts (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes facetiously referred to as "Turkey Day"). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, turnips, and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. Often guests bring food items or help with cooking in the kitchen as part of a happy, communal meal.

In keeping with the holiday theme of giving thanks, during the socializing or meal, people talk about what they are thankful for or tell about experiences during the past year which have caused them to feel grateful.

The Pilgrims

The early settlers of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts were particularly grateful to Squanto, the Native American and former British slave who taught them how to both catch eel and grow corn and also served as their native interpreter. Without Squanto's assistance, the settlers might not have survived in the New World.

The Plymouth settlers (who came to be called "Pilgrims") set apart a holiday immediately after their first harvest in 1621. They held an autumn celebration of food, feasting, and praising God. The Governor of Plymouth invited Grand Sachem Massasoit and the Wampanoag people to join them in the feast. Evidence to support that claim came from diaries of Plymouth. The settlers fed and entertained the Native Americans for three days, at which point some of the Native Americans went into the forest, killed 5 deer, and gave them to the Governor as a gift.

The National Thanksgiving Proclamations

National Thanksgiving Proclamations proclaim thanks for God's providence in the events of the nation and, as President Washington explained in his Thanksgiving Proclamation, for the many signal favors of Almighty GodĀ in the lives of the people.

As congress recognized the importance of Thanksgiving observance, President George Washington issued a national Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789. He wrote, "Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be - That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks- for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country...for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed...and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions - to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually...To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us - and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best."

In 1789 Washington designated a national thanksgiving holiday for the newly ratified Constitution, specifically so that the people may thank God for "affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness" and for having "been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed... "

The first official Thanksgiving Proclamation made in America was issued by the Continental Congress in 1777. Six national Proclamations of Thanksgiving were issued in the first thirty years after the founding of the United States of America as an independent federation of States. President George Washington issued two, President John Adams issued two, President Thomas Jefferson made none and President James Madison issued two. After 1815 there were no more Thanksgiving Proclamations until the Presidency of Lincoln, who made two during the Civil War.

President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a Federal holiday as a "prayerful day of Thanksgiving" on the last Thursday in November. Since then every U.S. President has always made an official Thanksgiving Proclamation on behalf of the nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939 (approved by Congress in 1941).


Canada

In Canada, Thanksgiving is a three day weekend (although some provinces observe a four day weekend, Friday to Monday). Traditional Thanksgiving meals prominently feature turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, though Canada's multicultural heritage has seen some families infuse this traditional meal with elements of their traditional ethnic foods. Many Canadians also consume pumpkin pie after their meal.

As a liturgical festival, the Canadian Thanksgiving corresponds to the European harvest festival, during which churches are adorned with cornucopias, pumpkins, corn, wheat sheaves and other harvest bounty. English and other European harvest hymns are customarily sung on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, along with scriptural lections derived from biblical stories relating to the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot.

History of Thanksgiving in Canada

The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been futilely attempting to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did, however, establish a settlement in Canada. In the year 1578, Frobisher held a formal ceremony in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This event is widely considered to be the first Canadian Thanksgiving, and the first Thanksgiving celebrated by Europeans in North America. More settlers arrived and continued the ceremonial tradition initiated by Frobisher, who was eventually knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him - Frobisher Bay. The innermost point of the inlet of Frobisher Bay is the location of the Nunavut capital, formerly itself called Frobisher Bay, and now called Iqaluit.

It should be noted that the 1578 ceremony was not the first Thanksgiving as defined by First Nations tradition. Long before the time of Martin Frobisher, it was traditional in many First Nations cultures to offer an official giving of thanks during autumnal gatherings. In Haudenosaunee culture, Thanksgiving is a prayer recited to honor "The Three Sisters" (i.e., beans, corn, and squash) during the fall harvest.

In 1957, the Canadian Parliament declared Thanksgiving to be "a Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed," and officially decided that the holiday take place on the second Monday in October.