Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the United States. It is celebrated each year on the fourth Thursday in November. On this day, families gather together, and many people say prayers of thanks for the year’s blessings. In many homes, a big dinner of roast turkey and dressing is served. Thanksgiving is traditionally a harvest festival. Similar festivals are celebrated in many parts of the world to give thanks after the years crops have been safely harvested. Canada celebrates its Thanksgiving the second Monday in October.
A small ship called the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England, on September 16, 1620. The passengers spent 66 days in the hold of the ship arriving on November 21.
Most of them were Puritans who had been persecuted for their religious beliefs in England. One month later, on December 26, all 102 passengers set foot on land and began to establish the colony of Plymouth. The Pilgrims, as these people came to be called, had borrowed money from a group of English merchants to cross the Atlantic Ocean. They planned to start a settlement in the Virginia Colony in America, but during the long voyage, storms blew their crowded little vessel off course.
After sailing for more than two months, the Mayflower finally reached land near what is now Provincetown on Cape Cod. This part of the American coast, called New England, had been explored several years earlier by an Englishman named Capt. John Smith. The Pilgrims followed Smith’s maps and sailed across Cape Cod Bay to the mainland coast of Massachusetts.
They founded the Colony of Plymouth in December 1620. Most of the Pilgrims had suffered terribly from the long voyage. They immediately began to build shelters, but soon they were overcome by a general sickness. Through the course of the winter 46 died, nearly half their original number. Some who became ill on the voyage and who were too sick to be moved stayed on the Mayflower, which was anchored in Plymouth Harbor for the winter.
The Mayflower had been a cargo ship and had to be refitted to handle the Pilgrim passengers. It had three masts and a double deck. No one is sure of what happened to the original Mayflower after it returned to England the following April. A replica of the original Mayflower was built in England in the mid-1950’s. This ship, Mayflower II, sailed across the Atlantic in 1957 to commemorate the Pilgrim’s voyage. It is now anchored in Plymouth Harbor, Massachusetts.
The first American Thanksgiving probably took place in New England. It was celebrated by the Pilgrim settlers, who established Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620. The Pilgrims had struggled bravely through a grim winter with much sickness and little food.
The following spring, friendly Indians helped the settlers to plant corn, and in the autumn, the first crop was harvested. Governor William Bradford proclaimed three days of prayer and thanksgiving. The Pilgrims gave a huge feast and invited the Indian Chief, Massosoit, and 90 of his people.
The custom of observing a special harvest thanksgiving day spread throughout the other colonies in the following years. After the American Revolution, the various states continued the custom, each one naming it’s own day for giving thanks. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday in November. The present date was established by Congress in 1941.
Blessed are those that can give without remembering and receive without forgetting.
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