You are currently viewing How Did the Tradition of Giving Thanks Begin?
  • Post last modified:October 5, 2020
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The Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians enjoyed an autumn harvest feast together in 1621. We consider this celebration today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For two centuries, Thanksgiving days were celebrated by individual colonies and states. As we prepare for Thanksgiving this year, we thought it would be fun to take a look at the tradition of giving Thanks and how it all started. 

Origin of Thanksgiving 

A small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, in September 1620. Aboard the ship were 102 passengers. Some were religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith, while others were lured by the New World and its promise of prosperity and land ownership. After 66 days at sea enduring a problematic and uncomfortable trip, they were able to anchor near the tip of Cape Cod. However, it was far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. The next month the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay. It was here the passengers we know as the Pilgrims began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.

The colonists weren’t prepared for the brutal winter, and many stayed on the ship. By spring, only half of the original passengers and crew had survived the outbreaks of contagious disease, scurvy, and exposure to the elements. Those who remained moved ashore. Where they received an unexpected visit from an Abenaki Indian, who greeted them in English. He returned several days later with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe named Squanto. He had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery. Escaping to London, he was able to return to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. 

picture of the mayflower

Squanto taught the malnourished and weakened Pilgrims to grow corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and stay away from poisonous plants. With his help, the settlers were able to form an alliance with a local tribe called the Wampanoag. This relationship would endure for more than 50 years. Tragically, it remains one of the only examples of peace between European colonists and Native Americans.

After the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast in November 1621. He welcomed a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “First Thanksgiving.” Of course, the Pilgrims themselves probably didn’t call it this at the time. The festival lasted for three days.

How Thanksgiving Became a National Holiday 

To signify the end of a long drought that had threatened the year’s harvest, the Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623. This soon became a common practice among New England settlers. Followed by:

picture of the pilgrims eating thanksgiving dinner
  • 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States.
  • 1817 New York became one of several states to adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday officially.
  • 1827 The celebrated magazine editor and prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
  • 1863 Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request, scheduling Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November. 
  • 1939 President Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week to boost sales after the Great Depression.
  • 1941 President Roosevelt reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

Thanksgiving Traditions 

While the Thanksgiving celebration may have lost much of its original religious significance, it now focuses on cooking and enjoying a lavish meal with friends and family. Turkey, a Thanksgiving staple so well known it has become the unofficial mascot. Which may or may not have been on offer when the Pilgrims held the inaugural feast in 1621. 

picture of a turkey

National Turkey Federation clams nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird, either roasted, baked or deep-fried on Thanksgiving. Other traditional foods include mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. 

Besides all the delicious eating food, other traditions include:

  • Volunteering to feed the less fortunate
  • Marathon races
  • Shopping
  • Macy’sMacy’s Day Parade
  • Watching football 

We hope that you have a happy holiday season however you celebrate. We’re also here to make sure you are safe during your travels. If you have concerns about your auto insurance, please give us a call to go over your current auto insurance coverages. Hosting the holiday festivities in your home? Make sure your homeowners coverage is ready for your holiday visitors. Contact our office today at 860-684-5270 or at Our licensed insurance experts will gladly walk you through your current coverages and ensure that you have the right coverage for your individual needs. That’s our promise to you.