In the United States, the fourth Thursday in November is
called Thanksgiving Day. On this day, Americans give thanks for the blessings
they have enjoyed during the year. Thanksgiving is usually a family day, celebrated
with big dinners and happy reunions.
The first American Thanksgiving was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. The people of Plymouth had come to America from England in 1620. In their native land, they had been called Puritans because they wished to purify the Church of England by reforming church ceremonies and clerical clothing to conform with their belief in a simple style of worship. Eventually, some of them decided that they could not change the Church of England, so they formed their own churches. When English officials began to persecute them, they fled to Holland.
Several years passed. The Puritans living in Holland were again threatened by religious persecution as well as by war. They were also unhappy that their children were speaking Dutch
instead of English. Once again, they thought of moving. This time they considered America. In an unsettled land, they would finally be free to live as they chose. Also, the idea of bringing Christianity to a distant part of the world appealed to them. Some English merchants agreed to pay for their journey in return for a share of the profits produced by the new colony. So, after travelling back to England, a small group of Puritans, together with some other passengers, set sail for the New World. The Puritans began to call themselves Pilgrims because of their wanderings in search of religious freedom.
It was September of 1620 when their ship, called the Mayflower, left England with 102 men, women, and children on board. This was the worst season of the year for an ocean crossing, and the trip was very rough. Yet during the voyage, the travellers suffered only one death. Since there was also one birth aboard ship, the Mayflower was still carrying 102 passengers, when, after 65 days at sea, it landed in Province town Harbor, inside the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
The pilgrim leaders knew that, in order to survive, every society needed to establish and enforce rules for proper behavior. So 41 men aboard the Mayflower held a meeting to choose their first governor and sign the Mayflower Compact, the first formal agreement for self-government in America.
For about a month, the Pilgrims lived aboard ship and sent out a small group of men to explore
the coastline of Cape Cod Bay. At Plymouth, the men found a harbor with excellent fishing, some cleared land, corn fields, fresh water, and a high hill that could be fortified. The men went back to the Mayflower and reported their discovery. A few days later, the Mayflower sailed across Cape Cod to Plymouth Harbor. Coming ashore in their small boat, the Pilgrims landed(according to tradition) on a large rock later named Plymouth Rock. This was the beginning of the second permanent English settlement in America.
The Pilgrims were not trained and equipped to cope with life in the wilderness. During their first winter, they suffered tremendously. Hard work, diseased, bitterly cold weather, and insufficient food killed about half of them. By the end of this terrible first winter, only about 50 Plymouth colonists remained alive.
One spring morning in 1621, an Indian walked into the little village of Plymouth and introduced himself in a friendly way. Later, he brought the Indian chief, Massasoit, who gave gifts to the Pilgrims and offered help. The Indians of Massasoit's tribe taught the Pilgrims how to hunt, fish and grow food. they taught the Pilgrims to use fish for fertilizer when growing corn, pumpkins, and beans. Because of this help from the Indians, the Pilgrims had a good harvest.
Governor William Bradford was following an ancient tradition when, in the fall of 1621, he established a day of thanksgiving to God. The governor also decided to use this religious occasion to strengthen the friendship between the Pilgrims and their Indian neighbors. So he invited Chief Massasoit and his braves to share the Thanksgiving feast.
The Indians gladly accepted and sent deer meat for the feast. The Pilgrim men went hunting and returned with turkey and other wild animals. The women of Plymouth prepared delicious dish from corn, cranberries, squash, and pumpkins.
The first Thanksgiving dinner was cooked and served out-of-doors. Although it was late autumn, huge fires kept the hosts and guests warm. Massasoit and 90 Indians joined the Pilgrims for the first Thanksgiving feast. The celebration lasted three days! On the first day, the Indians spent most of the time eating. On the second and third days, they wrestled, ran races, sang and danced with the young people in Plymouth Colony. The holiday was a great success.
Many of the traditions of the modern American Thanksgiving come from that first thanksgiving celebration. Today's Thanksgiving turkey is much like the ones that were hunted in the forests around Plymouth. Squash and corn, which were also harvested by the early Pilgrims, appear on the thanksgiving table. Pumpkin pie is a traditional Thanksgiving dessert.
Every year, about 500,000 Americans take a journey into early American history by visiting Plymouth, a modern city that respects its past. In Plymouth Harbor, sightseers tour Mayflower II, a recently built ship similar to the original Mayflower. They see the famous Plymouth Rock. Then they spend a few hours walking through a reproduction of the original Pilgrim village. Modern Americans take a great pride in these courageous ancestors who had so little by today's standards, but who were thankful for receiving the things they valued most-a good harvest and the freedom to live and worship as they pleased.