USA - American life
- a very American festival
Thanksgiving is perhaps the most
American of America's festivals. While many countries have days when
everyone eats a lot, only the Americans have a day on which they
celebrate having enough to eat. Perhaps this may seem rather
superfluous in a country whose inhabitants are today among the best-fed
in the world; but to Americans, Thanksgiving is a reminder that this
was not always the case.
The First Thanksgiving in 1621 - from a painting by JLG Ferris
The last weeks of the year are a festive time in
most countries; but while Europeans just celebrate Christmas and the
New Year, Americans begin their festive season about a month earlier.
The feast of Thanksgiving
celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, is second only in
importance to Christmas in the American calendar of feast days.
Thanksgiving is the oldest non-Indian
tradition in the United States, and was first celebrated in the year
1621. It was in this year that the men and women in Plymouth, one of
the first New England colonies, decided to establish a feast day to
mark the end of the farming year.
Protestants, they called their feast day "Thanksgiving", a day on which
people could celebrate and give thanks to God for the crops
that they had
managed to grow and harvest
This was not in fact an original idea, but was based on the English
"Harvest Festival", an old custom
whereby people gave thanks to God once the crops were all in.
In America however, a successful harvest
was more significant than in England, for any failure
to bring in
an adequate supply of crops could be fatal for a new colony, struggling
itself up in an alien continent. While several early North Americans
colonies failed because the colonists were killed off by disease
others perished because they did not have time to prepare enough land
and grow enough food for their needs during the long cold winter
months. The year 1621 was a particularly bountiful
the Plymouth colonists, so they "gave thanks" for their good
In the years that followed, other
colonies introduced their own Thanksgiving festivals, each one at first
choosing its own date, and many varying the date according to the state
of the harvests. In 1789, President George Washington gave an official
Thanksgiving Day address
in honor of the new Constitution; and Thanksgiving Day, like
Independence Day (July 4th) became one of America's great days.
Nevertheless, initially the date was not
fixed nationally; indeed, it was not until 1863 that President Abraham
Lincoln declared that Thanksgiving Day should be celebrated on the last
Thursday of November. Other presidents made similar proclamations, and
the date of Thanksgiving tended to move around until the year 1941,
when Congress and the President jointly declared that it should
henceforth be fixed on the fourth Thursday of November. Since then,
Thanksgiving Day has remained fixed.
Once a communal festival, where whole
communities celebrated together, Thanksgiving is today the great family
festival; but apart from that, it has not changed greatly.
The heart of Thanksgiving is still the
fruit of the land; and the Thanksgiving feast is based, essentially, on
the native American foods that allowed the early settlers to survive:
turkey, corn, potatoes and squash
The wild turkeys, large birds that lived
in the forests of North America, were like a miracle for the early
colonists who could trap them with ease; and turkey has always been the
centerpiece of the Thanksgiving feast.
Potatoes were unknown to Europeans
before the discovery of North America, and it was Indians who taught
the early colonists how to grow them and eat them.
Maize, the great native North American
cereal, is another ingredient of the Thanksgiving meal, eaten in the
form of sweet corn.
Finally, for dessert, no Thanksgiving
meal is complete without "pumpkin pie", the traditional tart
made from pumpkins, enormous round orange types of squash
strict, pious - crops
plants that can be eaten - harvest
: picking of fruit, or cutting of cereal crops - custom
done regularly - failure
(n) : from the verb to
to not succeed - struggle
fight - disease
sickness - bountiful
abundant - address
speech - henceforth
from that time onwards - squash
vegetables such as courgettes (zucchini) and marrows.
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for use by teachers with their classes.
following sentences in your own words, starting with the prompt given:
Thanksgiving is second only in importance to Christmas in the American
calendar of feast days.
2. Any failure to bring in an adequate supply of crops could be fatal
for a new colony.
new colony ......
3. Turkey has always been the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving feast.
4. Potatoes were unknown to Europeans before the discovery of North
North America ................................. no-one ......
Have students form questions about the subject of
Thanksgiving, beginning with the following openings:
sort of .....
have them swap questions with a friend, and
answer each other's questions.
of this resource is permitted