Thanksgiving Day is a harvest festival celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. Traditionally, it has been a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. While it may have been religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday.[1] It is sometimes casually referred to as Turkey Day.

In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October, which is Columbus Day in the United States. In the United States, it falls on the fourth Thursday of November.

The precise historical origin of the holiday is disputed. Although Americans commonly believe that the first Thanksgiving happened in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, there is strong evidence for earlier celebrations in Canada (1578) and by Spanish explorers in Florida (1565).[citation needed]

Thanksgiving Day is also celebrated in Leiden, in the Netherlands. A different holiday which uses the same name is celebrated at a similar time of year in the island of Grenada.

 

Historical origins

The date, location, and purpose of the first Thanksgiving celebration are topics of some disagreement.

In the United States

Florida (1565)

Author and teacher Robyn Gioia and Michael Gannon, of the University of Florida, have argued that the earliest attested “thanksgiving” celebration in what is now the United States was celebrated by the Spanish on September 8, 1565 in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida.[2][3]

Virginia (1619)

A day of thanksgiving was codified in the founding charter of Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia in 1619.[4]

Massachusetts (1621)

While not the first thanksgiving of any sort on the continent, the traditional origin of modern Thanksgiving in the United States is generally regarded to be the celebration that occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation, in Massachusetts, in 1621. The Wampanoag Native Americans helped the pilgrims who arrived in Massachusetts cultivate the land and fish, saving them from starvation. This harvest celebration occurred early in the history of what would become one of the original Thirteen Colonies that later were to become the United States. This Thanksgiving was modeled after harvest festivals that were commonplace in Europe at the time.

According to historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574, while they were staying in Leiden.[5]

In Canada

Newfoundland (1578)

The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean. Frobisher’s Thanksgiving celebration was not for harvest, but for homecoming. He had safely returned from a search for the Northwest Passage, avoiding the later fate of Henry Hudson and Sir John Franklin. In the year 1578, Frobisher held a formal ceremony in Newfoundland to give thanks for surviving the long journey.[6]

New France (17th C)

French settlers who came to New France with explorer Samuel de Champlain in the early 17th century also took to celebrating their successful harvests. They even shared their food with the indigenous peoples of the area as well as setting up what became known as the “Order of Good Cheer.”[7]

Other influences

As many more settlers arrived in Canada, more celebrations of good harvest became common. New immigrants into the country, such as the Irish, Scottish and Germans, would also add their own harvest traditions to the harvest celebrations. Most of the American aspects of Thanksgiving (such as the turkey) were incorporated when United Empire Loyalists began to flee from the United States during the American Revolution and settled in Canada.[7]

 

Thanksgiving Day
Thanksgiving Day
Observed by Canada
United States
Type National, cultural
Date 2nd Monday in October (Canada)
4th Thursday in November (U.S.)
2010 date October 11, 2010 (Canada);

November 25, 2010 (U.S.)

2011 date October 10, 2011 (Canada);

November 24, 2011 (U.S.)

 

 

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