10 Things You Should Know About the History of Thanksgiving

Every year, on the fourth Thursday of November, American families gather together to feast and are thankful for all that has happened to them in the past year. This is one of the most celebrated holidays in the United States and for a good reason. The holiday has always been about honoring the year’s harvest, which is the reason we celebrate by having a feast.

Today, American Thanksgiving has become more secular in that it is about food, family, and football. A lot of people hold onto the idea that the holiday roots come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Many religious believers think biblical passages influenced the beginnings of Thanksgiving. From different dates to different beginnings, much of Thanksgiving’s exact history continues to be debated, so taking everything with a grain of salt is the way to go about learning about this holiday.

Whenever a holiday approaches, it is easy to get wrapped up in the busyness of everything going on around you. Taking the time to recognize the history of a holiday is essential, and many people forget to do so. Have you ever stopped to think about why you and all your neighbors eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and not any other bird? Or why all stores have sales on the day after Thanksgiving? Or maybe if anywhere else in the world celebrates this holiday as well? Or when watching football games became a Thanksgiving Day tradition? This article looks into all of these questions and more!


10The First Thanksgiving

When the New Englanders would celebrate Thanksgiving, it was nothing like the meal of 1621.

During the winter of 1620, nearly half of the Pilgrims making their way to Plymouth, Massachusetts lost their lives. Once they arrived there, the few that did, they made friends with their neighbors, the Wampanoag tribe, who taught them how to fish, plant, and hunt. As the seasons passed and autumn of 1621 rolled around, the Plymouth colonists had collected enough harvest to feed the community for the entire coming winter. For them, this was a victory, knowing that they would not lose their people in the same way they had the previous winter. Thanks to this, the colonists and the Wampanoag joined together for a three-day feast to celebrate the hard work they had committed over the past months.

The two groups most likely did not eat the traditional turkey that we eat at our Thanksgiving dinners today. Instead, they probably feasted on a roasted goose, corn, codfish, and lobster. This harvest meal that took place in 1621 is now known as the very first Thanksgiving Day.

Years later, when the New Englanders would celebrate Thanksgiving, it was nothing like the meal of 1621. Instead, it was a religious holiday, where people would be spending their days fasting and praying. Every autumn, each colony would declare necessary days of thanksgiving to God for a good harvest, victorious battles, and drought to end rainy periods. By the middle of the 19th century, many states had begun celebrating Thanksgiving, but the dates they chose to celebrate could vary by weeks, or even months, from one another.


9How “Black Friday” Began

The day “Black Friday” received its title during the 1960s to begin the holiday shopping season.

Many people wait until Black Friday to do all of their holiday shopping because that’s when almost everything that they want is on sale. Since Black Friday is such a capitalist holiday, many people assume it hasn’t been around for that long, but it has existed since the end of the 19th century. In America, it has basically become its own holiday. The “Black” part of the title refers to stores moving from a loss to a profit. This was because, during this time, accounting records were handwritten. So, losses would be written in red ink and profits in black ink.

It was retailers who were the ones that decided to make Black Friday a thing. Many retailers didn’t set up holiday displays or advertise holiday sales until Thanksgiving was over. This was a way to get people to start spending for the next holiday immediately, Christmas, once the previous one had ended. Black Friday continues to be what it is today because Americans keep buying into it. The holiday is not all bad though since it provides many people with employment during the holiday season.

Speaking of employment, while everyone else is out shopping on Black Friday, plumbers are hard at work. For a number of different reasons, the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for drain and plumbing companies. So, if you’re spending the day out shopping, consider yourself lucky!


8President Abraham Lincoln Made it A National Holiday

President Abraham Lincoln turned Thanksgiving into a federal holiday in 1863.

Although Thanksgiving has been celebrated in one way or another since 1621, it was only in 1863 that it became a national holiday. Before this occurred, President George Washington declared it a holiday that is to be a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789. A resolution of Congress then followed this declaration. President Washington stated that Thanksgiving Day must be devoted 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.” Here, we see the religious undertones of what Thanksgiving is. What began as a day to honor the Earth and what it gives to us slowly became a day to honor God.

Although President Washington played a significant role in making Thanksgiving the holiday that it is today, it was President Abraham Lincoln that turned Thanksgiving into a federal holiday in 1863. If you are well-versed in history, you know that the year 1863 was right in the middle of the American Civil War. During this time, the United States was divided into two, and the North and South were in major disagreements that led to armed battles. Due to the conflicts going on because of the war, President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” for all of the nations. In this declaration, he also stated Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the last Thursday of November every year, from that moment forward.


7The Tradition of Thanksgiving Roots in the Bible

Thanksgiving Roots are also available in the Bible so the people should follow it religiously.

The ideas of Thanksgiving are rooted in biblical passages, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Religious folk makes sure that secular people are aware that the Pilgrims, who began the tradition of Thanksgiving with the Wampanoag tribe, followed the words of the Bible. Governor Bradford, who is known for being the one with the idea for the first Thanksgiving feast, is said to have gotten his inspiration from the Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles. This is one of the three major Israeli feasts discussed in the Old Testament.

The Bible dictates that the Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles was to be celebrated on the 15th day of Tishri, which falls around the middle of October in the Georgian calendar. This feast was to last an entire week, where people were not to work and were to recite passages from the Torah. During this week of rest, the Jews were told to be mindful of their journey from Egypt, in which God had brought them to the Promised Land. The tradition of having harvest fruits on Thanksgiving also comes from the Bible, as it was said to be the offerings the Jews gave to God for all that he had done for them.

The reason Thanksgiving has the name it does is likely to be from the Book of Isaiah (12:3-5), which reads “Give thanks to the Lord, acclaim His name; among the nations make known His deeds proclaim how exalted is His name.  Sing praise to the Lord for His glorious achievement; let this be known throughout all the earth.'”


6It Is Not Only the United States That Celebrate Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving day is not only celebrated in the US but also in other regions of the world. 

Different versions of Thanksgiving occur all over the world, and they all involve having significant feasts. In Malaysia, they celebrate the “Kadazan Festival,” which takes place in May. This festival is in honor of rice, which Malaysians claim there to be no life without. For them, having rice on our Earth is a reflection of their Creator, Bambaazon, making life easy on Earth.

Koreans celebrate the “Chuseok Harvest Festival,” which is meant to show respect to their ancestral roots and the elders of their communities. This festival lasts one day, and people are expected to feast with their families during this time, while also going to cemeteries to give thanks to their relatives that have passed on.

In Ghana, the African festival of “Homowo” is celebrated among their people to spread hope for a plentiful harvest. The goal of this festival is to show their appreciation to the Earth and ask it to help them with their issues of famine. It is otherwise known as the “Festival of the Yams” because it occurs every year when yams begin to be produced after the rainy season has ended. Germans have a holiday named “Erntedankfest,” which means “Thanksgiving Day” in German. This is a religious holiday where all Christians must attend church services. During these services, the priests remind believers to give thanks to God for the year’s crops. Churches make up crates full of vegetables, fruits, and seeds to give out to the needy on this day.


5Canadian vs. American Thanksgiving

The Indigenous people in Canada had their own form of a Thanksgiving festival.

Another country that celebrates Thanksgiving in Canada. Canadian and American Thanksgiving celebrations go about in the same fashion as one another but have several differences that separate them.

First off, the two Thanksgivings happen on different dates. American Thanksgiving occurs annually on the fourth Thursday of November, while Canadian Thanksgiving occurs on the second Monday of October every year. This difference in times they have chosen to celebrate their Thanksgiving Day on comes for a difference in the two holidays’ histories.

Unlike American Thanksgiving, the Indigenous people in Canada had their own form of a Thanksgiving festival before the settlers arrived. The Canadian Thanksgiving, as we know it today, originates back to 1578. This first celebration is credited to Sir Martin Frobisher and the people he arrived in Canada with – they are remembered for being the first Europeans to hold a Thanksgiving Day in North America. By the 1870s, some form of annual Thanksgiving ceremony was happening in almost every province in Canada, as it was in the United States by that time as well. It was in 1957 that Thanksgiving became an official Canadian holiday that was to take place on the second Monday of every October.

Today, every state in America holds Thanksgiving as a statutory holiday. In Canada, four provinces/territories do not recognize it as one. Both Canadian and American Thanksgivings have religious roots. Although Canadian Thanksgiving is believed to have traditionally been celebrated whenever the harvest began, many religious believers see it to have the same biblical origins as American Thanksgiving.


4Why Turkey?

why turkey is now the chosen bird to eat on Thanksgiving is not a mystery anymore. 

Every household in America has different dishes on their table during Thanksgiving. Some people have roasted potatoes, while others have a variety of mixed vegetables. The only thing that you are sure to find on every table during this holiday is a turkey. Why is this?

It’s nearly impossible to figure out the exact moment in time that the turkey became the unofficial bird of Thanksgiving, but history buffs have some ideas. Many do not think that the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags had turkey during their first harvest feast, so it has not always been the way it is today when it comes to what we eat on Thanksgiving. One theory of why we eat turkey every Thanksgiving is because the Queen of England decided it should be that way during the 16th century. She said so, and everyone followed.

Another guess for why turkey is now the chosen bird to eat on Thanksgiving is because of its large body size, in comparison to other birds. Turkeys are typically large enough to feed at least 10 people, which means an entire family and more can be fed with this one bird.

The ancestral line of the turkey has always been in North America. It is because of this that Benjamin Franklin once said he wished the turkey were America’s national bird, rather than the bald eagle. In a letter to his daughter, Benjamin Franklin admitted that he thought the turkey was a “much more respectable bird.” Although he thought this, he could not stop the bald eagle from becoming America’s national emblem in 1782. Although the bald eagle gets the spotlight in America for the majority of the year, one thing is for sure: the fourth Thursday of every November is reserved for the turkey.

Whatever the reason this bird ends up on your table, the good news is that turkey is healthier than chicken, as it contains fewer calories per bite – so you can enjoy more!


3Butterball Turkey

According to Butterball, oven roasting your turkey is your best bet, since it is “simple, convenient and delicious.”

The brand Butterball has been America’s favorite turkey distributor since as long as all of our grandparents can remember. Butterball turkeys have basically become as much a part of American Thanksgiving as rice is for the Malaysian “Kadazan Festival.” No table would be complete on this day without one of their turkeys.

This company takes being there for their clients to a whole new level. They have a Butterball Turkey Hotline that you can call 24/7 with any questions you may have about their turkeys. Their statistics have shown that during November and December, when everyone is either preparing for Thanksgiving or Christmas, they respond to over 100,000 calls. These calls are almost always about how exactly to cook a turkey.

Now, thanks to the greatness of the internet, their website gives clear instructions of how to properly roast a turkey. On the website, you can find how to cook frozen whole turkeys, fully cooked whole turkeys, full turkey breasts, and boneless roasts. Even though everything is written out on their website, there is no doubt that they are going to continue to receive thousands of calls when the holiday seasons rolls around this year.

On their website, you can also find a variety of recipes for any time of the day. Beyond this, you can even follow them on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook. Whatever questions you may have that are turkey-related – Butterball is there for you!


2Football and Thanksgiving Go Hand-In-Hand

Football and Thanksgiving are always connected. It wasn’t until 1920 that a professional football game was played on Thanksgiving.

Modern-day American Thanksgiving seems incomplete without watching a football game. In the same way that every family is likely to have a turkey on their table on Thanksgiving, it’s also very probable that these same people find themselves watching a game after their dinner. This tradition began in 1869 when the first Thanksgiving Day football game took place in Philadelphia. This was six years after it had become a national holiday. The very first game took place at the Germantown Club’s home field, where they played the Young America Cricket Club.

The Thanksgiving Day football game tradition began with America’s university football league, but soon became a thing for high school football leagues to take part in as well. It wasn’t until 1920 that a professional football game was played on Thanksgiving. The tradition of the National Football League Thanksgiving Day football games has been on the rise since then. According to culturetrip.com, “In the NFL, the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys have been Thanksgiving staples. The Lions began playing on the day because owner GA Richards wanted to get more fans in the stands. Detroit played the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day 1934, and the Lions have played on the holiday nearly every year since. The Cowboys jumped on the Turkey Day bandwagon in 1966 (defeating the Cleveland Browns) in an effort to build their brand and fan base as well.”

Since its beginning in 1920, the only time the NFL has not scheduled games on Thanksgiving Day was during the years 1941 to 1944, because of WWII.


1The History of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The first-ever parade balloon was brought out at Macy’s fourth annual Thanksgiving Parade.

Every Thanksgiving in New York City, one of the world’s biggest parades takes place. This parade is Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which first began back in 1924. Macy’s, in case you don’t know, is one of the largest department stores in America. This store holds a three-hour parade every year on Thanksgiving in Manhattan, and thousands of people attend.

The first-ever parade balloon was brought out at Macy’s fourth annual Thanksgiving Parade. This balloon was of Felix the Cat, a black and white cat cartoon character from the 20th century. Back during this time, the parade balloons were cut loose once they reached the final point of the parade. Then anyone who managed to grab one could bring it back to Macy’s to receive a prize. This no longer happens because we know putting helium into the air is bad for our Earth.

Another fact about Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade is that real animals were part of it! Monkeys, elephants, bears, and camels were all part of the first parade in 1924. These animals were taken from Central Park Zoo early in the morning before the show began and brought back as soon as it was over. Was this a safety hazard? Maybe – but luckily nothing went wrong. Today, the parade is made up mainly of floats, balloons of different characters, performers, and any Macy’s workers who decide to walk in it.

To many people’s surprise, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is not the oldest of its kind. The first Thanksgiving parade to come about was Philadelphia’s 6ABC Thanksgiving Day Parade, which began in 1920.



As you now know, Thanksgiving has a deep history. From its beginnings in 1621 with the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe to its potential biblical roots to turkey becoming the unofficial bird of the holiday to football games that you and your family can enjoy on Thanksgiving Day. No matter what part of its tradition you look at, it has always been a time for loved ones to get together and celebrate the things they appreciate in their lives.

Although we may not know how exactly how long turkeys part of Thanksgiving traditions has been, we can still be grateful that they are a part of our feasts today. As Benjamin Franklin once said, they are a very respectable bird – so we should appreciate the fact that we get to eat them. Thanksgiving can be celebrated in a number of ways. If you haven’t gotten the chance yet, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a sight to see – no matter what age you are.

On this Thanksgiving, take the time to remember the history of the holiday with your family and friends. You can have fun with this by quizzing your younger cousins about Thanksgiving facts, or by asking your grandparents how the holiday has changed from when they were younger. Whatever you believe in, take a second to thank it for the great food and people in front of you during this time. After all of this, spend the next day having a shopping spree for Black Friday!