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Thanksgiving Traditions and Their Original Meaning

Marina Andreas

Thanksgiving is without a doubt November No.1 festivity, especially in English spoken countries like the US, Canada, and the UK and makes a great reason for family and friends to gather together and enjoy a rich feast while expressing their gratitude for all that they have.

While many see it as just a different day from the rest where you eat turkey and watch football with friends and family members, there is a deeper meaning behind the historic traditions of Thanksgiving and the festivity itself.

If we go back to the origins of Thanksgiving, we can better grasp what is all about. Surprisingly enough, the very first Thanksgiving was not a festivity with a feast as we are all familiar today, but a simple social gathering and celebration. It was first celebrated by a team of English colonists called the “Pilgrims” that following a loss of 46 of their members, managed to make it through the harsh cold winter and together with the help of the Indians, they produced a rich harvest in 1621. In honor of their survival and success, they’ve decided to dedicate 3 days and rejoice in a “thanksgiving” atmosphere.

Ever since, Thanksgiving has been celebrated across the U.S on and off until around 1789,  where George Washington had officially proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In 1863,  Abraham Lincoln set its celebration date to the last Thursday of November, a tradition that stills remains today in most regions.

The deeper meaning of the festivity is a result of different expressions which have evolved throughout the history--it has been a celebration of harvest, communal wins, national unity, national values, and gratitude to God for the growth of Americans as a nation. Today, families and friends gather as a reminiscence of all the above, to teach the younger generations, and to embrace the values of unity and gratitude for their own little and big victories, just like their predecessors did.

Thanksgiving has also evolved to be something more than a national holiday, as the spread of Christianity throughout the nation over the last few centuries has enriched it with religious concoctions and values. In the Bible, Thanksgiving is associated with divine praise, gratitude, adoration, sacrifice, trust, and full faith in God for our well being. As Psalm 42;4 quotes: “These things I remember as I pour out my soul; how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng”.

The characteristic turkey and pumpkin feast that we all enjoy traditionally every Thanksgiving, traces back to the first Thanksgiving feasts of the 17th century, where people used to switch from a consumption of fish, red meats and summer fruits to poultry and harvested winter vegetables like pumpkins.

As a festivity that is symbolic of unity and brotherhood, there have been many charity events taking place during or around Thanksgiving day--Salvation Army and other organizations sponsor feasts for the poor and less fortunate so everyone can gather and enjoy a Thanksgiving feast.

Regardless of the Thanksgiving traditions that have changed throughout the history and different regions, there are a few core values that remain the same even today: unity, brotherhood, and gratitude to God for all our victories together!


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