Thanksgiving is a harvest feast. Every year Americans gather with their families to have a huge feast and count their blessings. The traditional food on the Thanksgiving table consists of roasted turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, hot buttered rolls, gravy, and green beans. In addition, pumpkin pie is the traditionally essential dessert. Many families supplement the Thanksgiving spread with additional choices peculiar to their own tastes, but those traditional items must be present to qualify as a proper Thanksgiving. Even vegetarians feel strongly enough about it to opt for a tofu turkey. Cornbread, corn (either on the cob or off), and chestnuts are extremely popular additions to the menu. The holiday serves two purposes at the same time: to remind ourselves of our good fortunes, and to enjoy some time with our families.
Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday that originated from the first European settlers on American shores, a group of people called the Pilgrims. These people arrived completely unprepared for the hardships of colonial life. They landed in early November, with half their number having become seriously ill while still on the voyage over. The first winter was especially rough; in addition to illness, they had no food stores, did not have adequate housing, and suffered from the bitter cold and the heavy snowfall. By March, only 50 people were still alive out of the 110 who left England on the boat. However, they met the Indians, who turned out to be extremely helpful and friendly neighbors. The Indians taught the Pilgrims how to plant and harvest foods they were not familiar with such as maple sap and corn, which wild plants were poisonous, and which were medicinal. The Pilgrims also learned some useful agricultural techniques not practiced in Europe, but which worked well in the American environment and with American crops. Come harvest time, they had an abundance of food – more than enough to last the winter.
To celebrate, the Pilgrims invited the Indians who helped them, and everyone joined together in a huge, 3-day festival. They played games, they had demonstrations of skill in archery and other sporting events, and everyone sat together and shared a feast.
In the third year, they experienced a drought, with the crops wilting and dying in the fields. They had a day of fasting and prayer, and rain came two days later. The crops prospered after all. With another bountiful harvest under their belt, they proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving, where everyone feasted and gave thanks for the harvest. They continued this tradition every year after that.
During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress formally proclaimed Thanksgiving a national tradition. The history behind it suggested the American spirit of independence.
After the Revolution was over, however, the new United States government did not make Thanksgiving official right away. People all over the country continued to practice it every year as a custom. Individual states began officially recognizing Thanksgiving as a holiday. Abraham Lincoln finally codified it into a national holiday in an official proclamation, designating the fourth Thursday of November as the official Thanksgiving Day. Every president since Lincoln has made it a point to reissue this proclamation.