Thanksgiving Day is an American holiday and not celebrated in continental Europe. On the fourth Thursday of each November, families and friends gather together for the occasion to celebrate with a traditional turkey dinner, usually in the mid-afternoon. Thanksgiving originated as a celebration of the year's harvest and is similar to the Mid-Autumn Festival in China.
The origin of the Thanksgiving Day
This American tradition started in 1621 before the United States of America was established. It was a huge celebration for a hard-earned harvest the first year after arriving in the New World.
On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower ship set sail from Plymouth, Devon, England, taking all the English Pilgrims （清教徒）to the New World. The English Pilgrims numbered about a hundred people, and left England to escape religious persecution. Their voyage to the New World was financed by Merchant Adventurers, an English investor group.
The Pilgrims sailed sixty-six days, arrived in the New World in November of the same year. They first settled in a cornfield abandoned by Native Indians and named it Plymouth Plantation.
They worked on the land with much difficulty and were beset by a devastating plague in which half of the Pilgrim died in the long winter of 1620. In the spring of 1621, an Indian brave named Squanto and her Wampanoag （瓦帕浓人，北美印第安人阿尔琴族一部落）tribe came to their help. The tribe taught the Pilgrims how to work the earth and plant corn, beans, pumpkins, squash and other crops.
The Thanksgiving feast in 1621
In late September 1621, the Pilgrims were pleased with their great harvest. To celebrate their first harvest, the Pilgrims wanted to thank God and the Native Indian. They invited Squanto and the entire Wampanoag tribe that celebrate together in a shared feast.
It was said about ninety Wampanoag turned up, much to the surprise of the Pilgrims, whose population had shrunk to no more than 50. The chief of the tribe had his men hunt five deer to bring to the feast. The first Thanksgiving dinner had an elaborate menu with venison, wild turkey, goose, duck, crane, swan, and other waterfowl; they also has local seafood: clams, lobsters, mussels, salmon, cod, bass, herring, shad, bluefish, lots of eel and oysters. They also cooked plenty of vegetables, among them squash, pumpkins and beans were the most popular.
They ate raspberries, strawberries, grapes, plums, cherries, blueberries, walnuts, chestnuts, acorns, hickory and ground nuts, wheat flour, Indian corn and corn meal and they made beer out of barley. The pumpkin pudding was later developed into the traditional pumpkin pie.
The first Thanksgiving dinner is said to have lasted from three days to one week with much food, beer and liquor. The Pilgrims and the Native Indian sat together on the ground, shared food with fingers or used rough plates made of wood or stale bread. They ran races, played old English games and staged parades during the festive, with marches, drums and firing of their muskets.
"Thanksgiving" related to the Bible
The phrase "thanksgiving" initially comes from the Bible. The Pilgrims of Plymouth, however, were mainly Puritans and strict Calvinist Protestants. They only observed three religious holidays from the New Testament: Sunday Sabbath, Days of Fasting and humiliation and Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving marked favourable ("mercies") in community life.
The first Thanksgiving festival was indeed a time of happiness, fellowship and rejoicing for the Pilgrims. They arranged a friendly treaty with the Native American Indians, built houses in the wilderness, and raised sufficient crops to feed themselves for the upcoming long winter. The Pilgrims had become the first generation of settlers in this new land holding so much promise.