Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Some info I collected while researching my book Pilgrims in America (Rourke, 2007) last year:
In October 1621, the 50 Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts, celebrated their settlement and a successful autumn harvest with a 3-day "feast of thanksgiving." There are only two known eyewitness accounts of that celebration.
The Pilgrims invited 90 Wampanoag Indians, who gifted their hosts with fish, clams, oysters, lobsters, deer, and wild turkeys. The Pilgrim provided foods such as ducks, geese, wild berries, cabbage, corn, beets, radishes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, and turnips.
Contrary to popular myth, the Pilgrims did not hold a similar feast the next year. Thanksgiving would not become an official national holiday for another 242 years. During the interim, several U.S. presidents, including George Washington in 1777, declared one-time national Thanksgiving celebrations. New York introduced an annual statewide holiday in 1817. And Abraham Lincoln used his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation to assign a permanent holiday to the last Thursday in November. He likely chose that date to correspond with the Pilgrims' November 21, 1620, landing at Cape Cod. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a time-frame change to the fourth Thursday in November to give people and businesses more time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Congress approved the change in 1941, and we've observed the holiday then ever since.