Our American celebration of Thanksgiving revolves around a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, everything from the green bean casserole and stuffing to sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.

Our American celebration of Thanksgiving revolves around a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, everything from the green bean casserole and stuffing to sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.
For many Americans, it's a day to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and to enjoy a football game. Americans travel and eat and prepare for Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Thanksgiving may include a family reunion around the dinner table, a church service, or a long nap.     
As the nation celebrates Thanksgiving 2017, there's talk of turkey and about the Pilgrims but who they were and why they celebrated is often lost in the modern holiday.                                                           
To understand Thanksgiving, a little history is necessary.  From the earliest times, a festival was held throughout England on the last day of the harvest called Harvest Home. A bountiful harvest ensured survival through the winter months and Harvest Home was celebrated throughout the land. It included a feast. Similar festivals were held in part of Ireland, Scotland, and across northern Europe.  With their English roots, the Pilgrims would have been familiar with the custom.                                                

The Pilgrims are often depicted wearing black and white simply styled garments. Prior to their arrival in the New World, they had sought religious freedom and freedom from persecution. Two groups were aboard the Mayflower, the Saints and the Strangers. Saints were the people of faith who endured the treacherous journey across the ocean for religious reasons. The Strangers were those who sought a new life in a new world. During the voyage, the groups remained separate but after land was sighted, they merged and agreed to live together in a society bound by certain laws. The Mayflower Compact turned the Saints and Strangers into what we call The Pilgrims.                                                                                  The definition of a pilgrim is someone who journeys afar or someone who travels for religious reasons or to reach a holy destination. The people we know as Pilgrims fit the definition.                                       

The Pilgrims came first and then the feast. It wasn't easy, however. The first year proved difficult and food was scarce. Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe who lived nearby helped the fledging colony or the Pilgrim might have perished from starvation.                                                             Everything changed for the better, however, in the spring of 1621. The colonists planted seed and Nature blessed them with a good growing season and abundant harvest. So, like the tradition they had followed in England, the Pilgrims had a Harvest Home or Thanksgiving. Their version probably had more religious overtones as they thanked God for their survival and the blessing of bountiful food since the original Harvest Home celebrations have pagan roots.                                                                      The Thanksgiving dinner that the Pilgrims shared with the Wampanoags had a few similarities with the modern feast. According to a description written by Governor Bradford of Plymouth Colony the Pilgrims dined on oyster, fish, ad wild turkey. Other meats included geese, ducks and venison. A variety of grains and vegetables were served, including Indian maize or corn, beans, peas, barley,wheat, rye, parsnips, carrots, turnips, cabbage, onions, melon, radishes, beets, and kale.                            

  There was no pumpkin mentioned by Bradford and the sweetest item listed on the menu was wild grapes, which the governor called "very sweet and strong."                                                             

Although that November day in 1621 may be the “first Thanksgiving,” it was not the only such observance in the early colonial period. It was not until 1817 that the first state, New York, set aside an official day of Thanksgiving. Although many other states followed suit, there was no national day of Thanksgiving until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed such a day in 1863, during the Civil War. Each American president since Lincoln has issued a Presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving. It has become a national holiday that Americans of all creeds come together to celebrate. Thanksgiving was observed on the last Thursday in November until President Franklin Roosevelt changed it in 1939 to the 4th Thursday to boost the holiday shopping season with an extra week. From then until 1941, each President made a proclamation each year. In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared Thanksgiving would be always be held on the last Thursday of November. It has been ever since.
Along the way, a book written by Jane Austin, a Mayflower descendent, wrote a book called 'Standish On Standish" in which she romanticized and fictionalized the events of that first Thanksgiving. A poem published in 1844 by Lydia Marie Child called "Over The River And Through The Woods" created images of Thanksgiving that remain. It's interesting to note, however, that in the original verse has the narrator heading for grandfather's house instead of grandmother's.
Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of a long-ago argument over whether the dressing should be sage or onion, first in an article that appeared in The Missouri Ruralist in 1916 and later described in one of her Little House books.  In my family, it's sage AND onion dressing because that's the way my great-grandmother taught us to make it.
Football became a Thanksgiving tradition starting in 1876 when Yale and Princeton battled on the field. At the time, football - adapted from rugby - was still a new sport. And the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in New York City in 1924.                                                      

Americans may not possess all the historical facts about the origins of Thanksgiving but at least now, they have some Turkey Day trivia talk for the holiday table!