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Thanksgiving Day: (Fourth Thursday in November, USA)   Leave a comment

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...

English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

"The Landing of the Pilgrims."(1877)...

“The Landing of the Pilgrims.”(1877) by Henry A. Bacon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir a c...

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir a copy is also located in the, United States Capitol rotunda, Washington, DC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Thanksgiving Day in the United States is a celebration of the Story of Pilgrim Fathers who founded the first English settlement of the New World; before 1620, colonies, like Jamestown, were trading posts.


The Mayflower migrants sailed from Plymouth (originally from East Anglia), intending to make new home where they could practice nonconformist faith without persecution from state churches. In effect, they were early seventeenth-century refugees, like the Huguenots who had fled an autocratic France fifty years earlier.

Theirs was a dangerous enterprise. Crossing the Atlantic at that time could take four to five months. They left England in early September and landed on the North American coast in late December.

Once arriving in the New World, any Settlement could be threatened by Amerindians, extremes of climate and the difficulty of making good farm land in thickly-forested areas. In addition, they could be wiped out by diseases to which they had no natural resistance. In 1603 a colony of 1500 settlers had suffered this fate.

The Pilgrim Fathers were Puritan separatists who had set up illegal churches in Lincolnshire and other parts of East Anglia. Threatened with fines and/or imprisonement, some had fled to Holland, setting up churches in Amsterdam and Leyden, but then decided to reunite their English churches by setting up a religious colony in America. The Mayflower left Delftshaven in July 1620, the saints being joined at Southampton in August, before finally leaving Plymouth on 6th September.

They were English patriots who thought of their new territory as New England with first town named Plymouth. Their allegiance was still very much to their mother country and they had no intention of founding a new nation. The territory is now called by the Amerindian name of Massachusetts, though it is still referred to as New England.

The Pilgrims were 102 determined people who were founding a community built on hard work and unselfishness. Their first winter was very severe; they relied on the supplies they had brought with them, building cabins. In the Spring, they sowed seeds supplied to them by the local Indians. When the ship returned to England, not one settler returned with it. Their inspirational leader, William Bradford, became Governer, and Captain Miles Standish, a gifted soldier, led the defence of the colony, though the Amerindians were mostly friendly.

With the harvest safely gathered in the following Autumn, the Pilgrims celebrated with a Thanksgiving Service and meal. This is now followed on the fouth Thursday in November every year. Some Americans used to object to it as example of Puritan bigotry, but now it is mainly a time for a family reunion around a shared feast.

Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims first set foot, lies on the harbour shore near site of first houses in Leyden Street. Above it is Coles Hill, where they buried nearly half their number in first winter. Graves were unmarked to hide difficulties from Indians. The oldest stone on Burial Hill, originally Fort Hill, dates from 1681. Inside Pilgrms’ Hall the many relics include Governer Bradford’s Bible and Miles Standish’s sword. In 1889 a national monument was set up with figures 25 metres high representing Morality, Education, Law and Freedom. Marble frescoes tell the story of the first settlement.

Until recently, and still for many, Thanksgiving is a national religious festival, a unique event for a secular state. On the previous Sunday, church services are held, but the Thursday is a day for families to be together. Houses are decorated in warm autumn colours, with gourds and pumpkins, symbols of harvest. On the first Thanksgiving Day, Indian corn was a basic ingredient of the main meal, but it is now used only in decorations.

Food is traditional, with main meal consisting of turkey, ham, cranberry jelly, mashed potato, sweet potato and/or yams. Followed by pumpkin pie, mince-pie and whipped cream.

If there are strangers known to the family with nowhere to go, they will be offered hospitality, a reminder of the unselfish sharing among the first settlers. Schoolchidren perform pageants and do projects. American Football matches are played, especially between rival colleges.

The primary purpose of the festival is still that of giving thanks for God’s blessings, just as the Pilgrim Fathers gave thanks for their first harvest nearly four centuries ago.

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