WHY DO WE EAT TURKEY ON THANKSGIVING?
Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States that is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November every year. It is a time to gather with family and friends, enjoy a bountiful meal, and express gratitude for the blessings of life. But how did turkey become the centerpiece of this feast? And what is the origin of this tradition?
The first Thanksgiving
The story of the first Thanksgiving is often traced back to an event that took place in 1621, when the Pilgrims, a group of English settlers who had arrived at Plymouth colony in Massachusetts the previous year, shared a harvest feast with the Wampanoag, a Native American tribe that lived in the area. According to a letter written by Edward Winslow, one of the Pilgrims, the Wampanoag brought deer to the feast, while the Pilgrims provided wild fowl, which could have been ducks, geese, or possibly turkeys. However, there is no evidence that this meal was considered a special occasion by the participants, or that it was repeated in the following years. In fact, the Pilgrims did not use the term Thanksgiving to refer to their harvest celebration, but rather to their religious observances of giving thanks to God for his providence.
The evolution of Thanksgiving
The practice of holding days of thanksgiving was common among the colonists of New England, who followed the tradition of their European ancestors of celebrating the autumn harvest with feasts and prayers. These days were not fixed on the calendar, but rather proclaimed by local authorities or church leaders in response to specific events, such as victories in wars, droughts, epidemics, or good harvests.
The first official Thanksgiving proclamation in America was issued by the Continental Congress in 1777, during the Revolutionary War, to thank God for the American victory at Saratoga. In 1789, President George Washington declared a national day of thanksgiving to acknowledge the successful ratification of the Constitution. However, these proclamations did not establish a regular annual observance of Thanksgiving, and the date and manner of celebration varied from state to state.
The person who is credited with making Thanksgiving a national holiday is Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor and author who campaigned for this cause for almost four decades. Hale was inspired by the account of the 1621 feast written by Winslow, and she popularized the idea of turkey as the main dish of the Thanksgiving meal in her writings and recipes. She also wrote letters to several presidents, urging them to declare a national day of thanksgiving to unify the country and foster a sense of patriotism. Her efforts finally paid off in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a national day of thanksgiving and praise to God.
Since then, Thanksgiving has been observed every year in the United States, with some minor changes in the date. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November, to extend the Christmas shopping season and boost the economy during the Great Depression. However, this decision was met with opposition from many states, and in 1941, Congress passed a law that fixed the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.
The meaning of turkey
Turkey is not only the most common dish served at the Thanksgiving table, but also a symbol of the holiday and its values. There are several reasons why turkey became associated with Thanksgiving over time. First, turkey is a native bird of North America, and thus represents the uniqueness and diversity of the continent and its people. Second, turkey is a large and relatively inexpensive bird, that can feed a big family or a group of guests, and thus reflects the abundance and generosity of the harvest and the spirit of sharing. Third, turkey is a versatile and adaptable bird, that can be cooked in various ways, and thus suits the tastes and preferences of different cultures and regions. Fourth, turkey is a lean and nutritious meat, that provides protein, iron, zinc, and other essential nutrients, and thus contributes to the health and well-being of the people.
Turkey is not only a food, but also a friend. Many Americans have adopted the tradition of pardoning a turkey every year, sparing it from being slaughtered and allowing it to live out its natural life. This tradition dates back to at least 1947, when President Harry Truman received a live turkey as a gift from the National Turkey Federation, and decided to keep it as a pet instead of eating it. Since then, every president has followed this custom, with some variations in the ceremony and the number of turkeys pardoned. The pardoned turkeys are usually sent to farms, zoos, or sanctuaries, where they can enjoy a peaceful and comfortable retirement.
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The celebration of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is more than a meal, it is a celebration of life. It is a time to reflect on the past, appreciate the present, and look forward to the future. It is a time to express gratitude for the gifts of nature, the blessings of freedom, and the love of family and friends. It is a time to honor the history and culture of the nation, and the diversity and harmony of its people. It is a time to enjoy the company and conversation of others, and the entertainment and fun of various activities. It is a time to share stories and memories, laughter and tears, hopes and dreams
Thanksgiving is a holiday that brings people together, regardless of their differences or distances. It is a holiday that celebrates the values and virtues that make America great: democracy, liberty, justice, equality, diversity, unity, generosity, compassion, and faith. It is a holiday that reminds us of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. It is a holiday that inspires us to be thankful for what we have, and to give back to those who have less. It is a holiday that challenges us to be better people, and to make the world a better place.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that honors the turkey, and the turkey honors Thanksgiving. How this bird became a symbol of gratitude and celebration in America is a story of history, culture, and tradition. It is a story that reflects the essence and spirit of the holiday, and the nation. It is a story that we can all relate to, and be proud of. It is a story that we can all tell, and enjoy. It is a story that we can all celebrate, and be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!