Six surprising facts about the history of Thanksgiving

Many families in America will today celebrate what is believed to be a joyful feast between Pilgrims and Native Americans, though different meanings have been given to the holiday. Thanksgiving Day, for some, is a time to spend with family, give thanks and enjoy delectable recipes. Others look forward to it because it is yet another day away from the pressures of work and school.
Essentially, Thanksgiving is celebrated to give thanks for the fruits of the previous harvest. In America, the celebration dates back to 1621, when the harvest was celebrated by the Pilgrims who had sailed from England on the ship Mayflower in September 1620 and were now settlers of the Plymouth Colony in what’s now called Massachusetts. But other accounts debunk any sort of happy feast between Pilgrims and the Native Americans at the time and rather describe the situation as white colonists who invaded a land, claimed it as their own, and slaughtered the indigenous people of the land in what is called the Pequot War between the settlers and the natives. Historians do not also agree about when the first Thanksgiving was held. The Pilgrims say their first “Thanksgiving” took place in July 1623 not 1621
The feast celebrated by the pilgrims in 1621 was never referred to as “Thanksgiving” by the colonists. Rather, it was a harvest celebration, according to a report by historyofmassachusetts.org. The report said it was in July 1623 that the pilgrims did organize what they called a “Thanksgiving.” This celebration was not in any way connected to the fall harvest as it was just a religious day of prayer and fasting. Then in 1962, a Virginia state senator wrote President John. F. Kennedy that “America’s First Thanksgiving was actually celebrated in Virginia in 1619.” The president had mentioned Plymouth as the site of the First Thanksgiving but the Virginia senator referred him to a religious ceremony English settlers held in 1619 when they arrived in Berkeley Plantation near Richmond, TIME reported. Kennedy did take note of this. In 1963, his Thanksgiving proclamation began: “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts … set aside a time of thanksgiving.”
People were divided over a national Thanksgiving holiday.
When President George Washington proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day in 1789, some members of Congress were against it. They argued that the president didn’t have the authority to designate a Thanksgiving Day as that right belonged to individual state governors. Others also wanted the Day to be separated from state activities as it was deemed “religious.”
Football games have been played at Thanksgiving since the late 1800s.
Though the first national Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by Washington in 1789, it did not become a regular holiday in the U.S. until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday in November should be celebrated as Thanksgiving. Football games then became a part of the celebration. The first football game on Thanksgiving Day was played in the mid-1870s when Princeton played Yale in Hoboken, N.J.In 1934, the first NFL football game also took place when the Detroit Lions played the Chicago Bears. The Lions have gone on to play on Thanksgiving Day except when the team was called away to serve during World War II. The Dallas Cowboys have hosted a game almost every year since 1966. To date, scores of college football teams play on or immediately after Thanksgiving.
Turkey wasn’t associated with Thanksgiving
Today, Thanksgiving celebration in the U.S. usually comes with a large meal, which almost always includes turkey, but the turkey wasn’t even the centrepiece of the meal the Pilgrims and the Native Americans (Wampanoag) ate in the 1600s. Historians note that at the time of the First Thanksgiving, there were other fowls apart from turkey as well as corn and oysters. Today, it is estimated that between 85 and 91 per cent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving while others refer to Thanksgiving as ‘Turkey Day’. What’s more, presidents pardon turkeys in honour of Thanksgiving, and this dates back to the Truman Administration.
Thanksgiving, for most Black people, was along with the Christian faith
Throughout Black churches in Antebellum America, pastors openly preached against slavery and the struggles of Black people during Thanksgiving, with hopes that their troubles would cease in the future. Some slaves meanwhile took advantage of Thanksgiving to escape as their slave owners were often far away from them. They used what was called passes granted them by their owners to facilitate their escape and delay the discovery of their escape.
So many nations celebrate Thanksgiving
Though Thanksgiving Day is popularly known to be celebrated in the United States, Thanksgiving Day is also celebrated in other countries, including Canada, Japan and Germany. People in the Caribbean and Africa also mark the day for unique reasons.