Each November, on the fourth Thursday of the month, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. The celebration may only be a federal holiday starting during the Civil War, but feasts of gratitude and celebration mark multiple milestones in North America’s history. From European explorers to indigenous cultures, from Mexico to Canada and everywhere in between, people have stopped to give thanks, to celebrate safety, and to enjoy the bounty of harvest time. Because it often came after a period of intense danger (like for European explorers), or before the grim trials of winter (like for both European and indigenous farmers), Thanksgiving included a sense of reflection and spiritual worship, as well as joy, fun, and celebration.
America’s most iconic, but hardly first, Thanksgiving feast occurred in October, 1621 when English settlers and Wampanoag tribesmen celebrated a 3-day harvest feast together. Thanksgiving, then, has often been a time to share with neighbors. You football fans will be happy to learn that America’s most archetypal Thanksgiving celebration also included athletic contests, as per the Library of Congress’s Thanksgiving timeline. Virginia was also the site of a Thanksgiving celebration in December 1619 when John Woodlief and members of the Berkeley company proclaimed a solemn day of thanksgiving upon reaching their land in Virginia (H. Graham Woodlief). Berkeley Plantation now re-enacts the Thanksgiving celebration of Woodlief and his company each year.
Wherever you are, the library hopes you enjoy your harvest feast, your free time, and your friends and family.
“Thanksgiving Timeline, 1541-2001.” Library of Congress, 2001, http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/thanksgiving/timeline/1621.html
Woodlief, H. Graham. “Berkeley Plantation: the First Thanksgiving.” Berkeley Plantation, 2016, http://www.berkeleyplantation.com/first-thanksgiving.html