Give Thanks, Then Eat
By Yvonne Liu
After gorging on candy and chocolate for days after you went trick-or-treating, it's time to loosen your belts again and brace yourself for a day of feasting you will never forget. If this is your first time celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S., it might be good to know why you are giving thanks and eating turkey with all the trimmings - whether or not you're a pilgrim or Native American.
After a devastating first year in the New World for the pilgrims who came in 1620, they found that their fall harvest was very successful. Corn, fruits, vegetables, salted fish, and smoked meats were plentiful enough to last through the cold winter. To give thanks for beating the odds of building homes in the wilderness, raising enough crops for the long winter, and keeping peace with their Indian neighbors, William Bradford, the governor, declared a day to be shared by all colonists and the neighboring Indians.
This custom of a day of thanks, held after the fall harvest, was celebrated some years, but not others (historians disagree about why). In 1817 the state of New York officially adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual event. By the mid-19th century, many other states also celebrated a day of thanks, but it wasn't until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln appointed Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday, designating the fourth Thursday of each November as a day to give thanks.
The pilgrims who settled in the New World were from England, which celebrated a harvest festival. According to one legend, Queen Elizabeth was sitting with the troops and eating roast goose to celebrate the harvest when news was brought to her that the Spanish Armada had sunk on its way to attack England. The queen was so delighted that she ordered a second goose to celebrate the good news and thus, the goose became the bird of choice at festival time in England. When the pilgrims came to the New World, they carried on the tradition of celebrating the harvest festival but geese were not plentiful. Historians believe now that the first Thanksgiving had cooked birds, but not turkeys. As the colonies (and later the United States) spread south and east, wild turkeys were found to be plentiful, so the turkey became the traditional Thanksgiving meat.
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