Each year we set aside a day to give thanks for all we have, but few know the actual history of this National Holiday.
We have recognized the first thanksgiving celebration as being when the Plymouth settlers arrived in the new world. They celebrated at Plymouth for three days after their first harvest in 1621. Still, there is evidence that indicates that Spanish explorers and settlers actually held Thanksgiving services during the late 1500s in what is now Florida and New Mexico.
Thanksgiving was also celebrated in what is now the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607. The first Jamestown settlement celebrated Thanksgiving in 1610.
The first Thanksgiving celebration at Plymouth was cooked by four Pilgrim adult women who survived their first winter in Plymouth along with their young daughters and other servants. It was attended by the 50 people from the original 100 on the Mayflower who landed at Plymouth along with 90 Native Americans.
It was President Lincoln who proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day celebration on the final Thursday of the month, November 26. The United States has observed Thanksgiving ever since.
Did you know that pumpkin pie was a staple on New England Thanksgiving tables as far back as the turn of the 18th century? There is a legend that the Connecticut town of Colchester postponed its Thanksgiving feast for a week in 1705 because of a molasses shortage. No one could think about celebrating Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, so instead, they postponed the celebration until they were able to receive their molasses and bake their pumpkin pies for their Thanksgiving tables.
In the 1940s, farmers began to gift the president turkeys to roast over the holidays for the first family to eat. John F> Kennedy was the first American president to spare a turkey’s life (“We’ll just let this one grow,” JFK remarked in 1963. “It’s our Thanksgiving present to him.” The annual White House tradition of “pardoning” a turkey officially began in 1989 with President George H.W. Bush.
Perhaps the oddest gift received by a president for Thanksgiving was a live raccoon. The gentleman who sent it meant it to be eaten. He said the raccoon meat was “toothsome.” President Calvin Coolidge may not have agreed with the man’s assessment. Instead, the Coolidge family adopted the raccoon and named it Rebecca.
In 1924 Macy’s announced its first Big Christmas Parade, which has gone on to become an annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The oversized balloons that have become a staple of the Macy’s Day parade first appeared in 1927 and featured Felix the Cat and other inflated animals, including elephants, tigers, and a giant hummingbird.
Thanksgiving and football have been inextricably woven together. How did this come to be? The first Thanksgiving football game was a college matchup between Princeton and Yale in 1876. That was 13 years after Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday. It was shortly after that first match that Thanksgiving was chosen as the date for the college football championships. By the 1890s, thousands of college and high school football rivalries were played every Thanksgiving, which is how football and Thanksgiving became associated.