Thanksgiving

An autumn version, painted by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, of the “first” Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts)

Our modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is sometimes traced back to a not-very-well-documented late autumn November 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts.

A year after their mistaken arrival (they intended to go to Virginia), this feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a first good harvest.

Pilgrims and Puritans began emigrating from England in the 1620s and brought a tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them.

It was “official” when Governor Bradford planned the colony’s thanksgiving celebration and fast in 1623. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.

Unlike the “first Thanksgiving” that is in many of our brains from school and popular culture,  the one that was first was on February 21, 1621.  A group of the starving Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock were saved by the last-minute arrival of a ship from Dublin bringing food.  Pilgrims in the winter of their first year had no harvest to rely on and faced the end of the their project to colonize the New World.  According to records at the Massachusetts Historical Society, a wife of one of the prominent Plymouth Rock brethren was the daughter of a Dublin merchant and that it was he who chartered a vessel, loaded it with food and sent it to Plymouth.

Thanksgiving observances are common throughout the world. American-style Thanksgiving is currently on the rise in the United Kingdom, with 1 in 6 Britons now celebrating the holiday. In 2014, it was reported that Turkey sales increased by 95% as a result of the rise in popularity of Thanksgiving in Britain.

ferris-thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving by JLG Ferris is a more traditional depiction of the holiday’s origin – Library of Congress

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