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The History of Thanksgiving

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. It is celebrated on the second Monday in October in Canada. Though originally a religious holiday, Thanksgiving is mostly about being with family and enjoying a big meal together. Along with the turkey dinner, Thanksgiving is also associated with parades and football. In this video, takes a look at the history and origins of Thanksgiving. An image provided by

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On this holiday, we give thanks and celebrate the harvest. Welcome to, and today we’ll be learning more about Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day is a holiday observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States.

Pilgrims Feast in 1621

While other such celebratory meals may have been held earlier, the Pilgrims’ 1621 feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts is most widely accepted as the first Thanksgiving celebration. After arriving from England via the Mayflower, these settlers were taught to harvest by local Native Americans. The Pilgrims then celebrated their success with the Natives by holding a three-day feast inspired by their religious traditions.

Thanksgiving Grows

As Thanksgiving became more popular across the country, similar celebrations were observed by other North American colonies.

Government Involvement

In 1863, a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln’s saw Thanksgiving become an annual event observed on the last Thursday in November, while President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially signed the holiday into federal law in 1941 as the fourth Thursday during that month.


Since then, Thanksgiving traditions have varied, but often include participating in games, dressing up and feasting. Though Thanksgiving is mainly a secular holiday that revolves around sharing a meal with loved ones, many people give thanks to God by attending church services and saying grace before the meal. Others help out the less fortunate by volunteering in the community.


Along with turkey, Thanksgiving dinner often consists of stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Beginning in the late 1940s, the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation has evolved into a ritual in which a presidential pardon allows two turkeys to live instead of being turned into food.


Various cities also hold annual parades: Detroit’s American Thanksgiving Parade and New York City’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are some of the bigger and more well-known processions.

Football and TV

The holiday has been associated with American football, and professional games have been played on Thanksgiving for decades. Many families follow the tradition of watching football, or the Macy’s Parade, on Thanksgiving. They also may watch Thanksgiving-themed TV shows and films, as there have been many throughout the years.

Black Friday

The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. While some schools and businesses are closed, many stores use the day to usher in the Christmas shopping season by holding major sales.


The observance of Thanksgiving is not without controversy. Some feel the holiday celebrates the violent conquest of Native Americans by the Europeans. This has led to some cities holding protest events, such as a “National Day of Mourning” instead.

Other Countries

Holidays similar to Thanksgiving are also celebrated by other countries on various dates and for various reasons. For example, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October.

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