6 Surprising Facts About The Origin Of Thanksgiving You Didn’t Learn In School

The first Thanksgiving started when the Native Americans brought the Pilgrims a cornucopia of food to celebrate in thanksgiving the union between the two groups. The End. Is that not how the story goes? School taught us this simple explanation to the origin of Thanksgiving which also serves as a reminder of the anniversary of when the European pilgrims traveled to North America to escape religious persecution.

With one group of people, the origin of Thanksgiving marks a celebration. But for another, it marks the beginning of a strained relationship that eventually forced the Native Americans off their land. One thing that does hold true for both sides of the situation, the origin of Thanksgiving stands for generosity, fellowship, and gathering with family and loved ones. The following list includes 6 surprising facts about that origin of Thanksgiving that you may not have learned in school. So get cozy, light a pumpkin spiced candle, and get yourself learned on the origin of Thanksgiving.

6 Surprising Facts About The Origin Of Thanksgiving You Didn’T Learn In School

1. A Harvest Celebration Was Not a New Concept

Prior to the first Thanksgiving, the Native Americans held annual fall celebrations for the earth’s bounties giving thanks to their maker. Parallel to this timing, the Europeans annually celebrated the autumn harvest with festivals and feasts. The merging of both group’s traditional celebrations make the origin of Thanksgiving an event a few thousand years in the making.

2. Without Squanto, There May Not Have Been A Thanksgiving

Although the actual location is still debated, the World Book reports that “in 1619, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation, near what is now Charles City, Virginia, on December 4.” The winter of 1620 was so brutal that half of the European pilgrims died. In the spring of 1621, those that survived met Tisquantum, or Squanto as the pilgrims called him, a Native American who taught the pilgrims how to plant food that would thrive on North American soil: corn and pumpkin. These foods, paired with the European peas, wheat, and barley helped the colonists thrive and thus give thanks with the first Thanksgiving.

6 Surprising Facts About The Origin Of Thanksgiving You Didn’T Learn In School
Read More: 10 Fun Thanksgiving Snacks For Kids

3. Early Thanksgiving Celebrations Did Not Always Include the Native Americans

Even though the first Thanksgiving was a three-day celebration, it wasn’t long before the Native Americans (specifically the Wampanoags) were no longer invited to this annual harvest festival and fellowship. The origin of Thanksgiving was based in generosity and thanks but soon after, arguments over land, religion, and cultural traditions split the English and the Wampanoags. While it is a commonly known fact that the English forced the Wampanoags off the land, the speed at which it happened often goes unsaid.

4. Thanksgiving Is a National Holiday Because of A Woman

In 1789, President George Washington declared November 26th a national day of thanksgiving but the origin of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was not officially celebrated until 1863 under President Abraham Lincoln. Who persuaded President Lincoln into declaring this holiday? Sara Hale, the editor of Ladies Magazine and later Godey’s Lady’s Book. She also coincidentally wrote “Mary Had A Little Lamb” (so you have her to thank after your child sings the chorus for the eight-thousandth time).

This woman of many talents utilized her publications to push the idea of making Thanksgiving Day a national holiday. According to the World Book, President Lincoln dictated that the last Thursday of November in 1863 should be “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” And so it was.

Read More: 10 Memorable Thanksgiving Poems For Kids

5. Thanksgiving Wasn’t Always Celebrated The Last Thursday of November

If you have ever worked in retail or retail sales, you know the importance of the shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nearly every company that sells a product to consumers attempts to improve upon the sales of the prior year. This can become tricky when the last Thursday of November falls at the very end of the month leaving less days in between the two holidays. Back in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt this retail strain and declared that Thanksgiving would occur one week earlier. The origin of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was disrupted…but only until 1941 when Congress passed a ruling that the fourth Thursday of November would be Thanksgiving Day, a legal federal holiday.

6 Surprising Facts About The Origin Of Thanksgiving You Didn’T Learn In School

6. The Origin of Thanksgiving in Canada Dates Before The United States

English pilgrims settled into Canada much the same way as the United States. Newfoundland was the location for the first Canadian Thanksgiving in 1578 – which if you recall is actually prior to the origin of Thanksgiving in the United States. In 1957, Canada’s government officially declared the second Monday in October as the legal holiday of Thanksgiving Day. Before that date, Canadians celebrated the holiday the last Monday of October.

The thought of Thanksgiving conjures images of sweaters, turkey, pumpkin pie, wine, and lots of mashed potatoes and gravy. Long hours of football watching and enjoying the company of family and friends. The Thanksgiving of today, while quite different than the origin of Thanksgiving in both the United States and Canada, remains consistent with the togetherness that was celebrated so many years ago.

Check out this article on 10 Fun Thanksgiving Day Parade Facts.

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6 Surprising Facts About The Origin Of Thanksgiving You Didn’T Learn In School

Sources: World Book Online

Photo Credits: Unsplash.com, Pexels.com



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Katie Cowan
Katie Cowan
A Kansas City native, Katie is a mom of three and wife of one. She enjoys being at home, freelance writing, and volunteering at her children’s school and her family’s Parish. She loves working out, trying new restaurants, reading, and binge-watching TV shows. All the TV shows. Follow as she attempts to read @onebookeachweek on Instagram!