The annual four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend will be soon upon us. Thanksgiving and all that it stands for (e.g., traveling to be with family and friends, feasting on certain traditional foods, giving thanks for bounty, etc.) is one of America’s most unique holidays. Although the original idea of a thanksgiving can be traced back in history to the autumn harvest festival which has been celebrated all over the world in different cultures and societies, it slowly morphed into something very unique once it was brought to the New World in the early 17th century by the Pilgrims, a religious group trying to escape religious persecution in England.
As the story has been told over and over again, the original American Thanksgiving harks back almost 400 years to the Pilgrim colony in Massachusetts. The Pilgrims, after making a rough two month sea voyage from England during the fall of 1620, arrived in America at the beginning of winter and had a tough go of life in the New World over the next several months. If it wasn’t for a tribe of Indians called the Wampanoag, who taught the newcomers about the New World’s different food sources, the Pilgrims would have all perished that first year. Although many did die, several didn’t and there was a bountiful feast held in the autumn of 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Ergo, the first American Thanksgiving feast!
After the Pilgrims, came tens of thousands of more settlers to America. By the second half of the 1600s, thanksgivings after the autumn harvest became more common and started to become annual events. Also, by the 1700s, “thanksgiving” was celebrated on different days in different communities and in some places there were more than one thanksgiving each year. The celebrations often included prayer and fasting and so were quite different to the modern holiday we have today which is totally secular.
It wasn’t until 1789, however, that George Washington, the first president of the U.S., proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving. His historic proclamation set aside Thursday, November 26 as “A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer.” However, this wasn’t enough for everyone to get in line and celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day. By 1863, however, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day, the day finally became a national holiday everywhere in the US. And finally, in December 1941 Congress got even more specific and passed a law ensuring that all Americans would celebrate a unified Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year.
The Thanksgiving feast became a national tradition — not only because so many other Americans have found prosperity but also because the great sacrifices the Pilgrims made to come to America for their religious freedom still catches our imagination. To this day, a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner almost always includes some of the foods served at that first feast held in 1621: roast turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving is truly one of the most celebrated and popular holidays in America. Almost all government offices, post office, banks and businesses including retail stores are closed on Thanksgiving Day. Many businesses allow employees to have a four-day weekend with the Friday after Thanksgiving Day also a holiday. According to the BNA annual Thanksgiving Holiday Practices Survey, 96% of employers schedule Thanksgiving Day as a paid holiday and 72% of employers schedule both Thanksgiving Day and Friday after as a paid holiday.
With it being a rare four-day long holiday, Thanksgiving wins over any other U.S. holiday for being the busiest for long-distance travel. Between the Wednesday before and Sunday after Thanksgiving, freeways, airports, and train stations are packed with travelers. And not to forget, the day after Thanksgiving marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas holiday shopping season with “Black Friday,” one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Plus as an extension to all the shopping frenzy during the Thanksgiving weekend, the internet retailers have developed “Cyber Monday” for increasing internet retail sales.
No matter what you’re planning, cooking or enjoying a Thanksgiving meal with friends and family, watching a football game or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, waiting to get into a store at 4:00 am on Black Friday, traveling by car, plane or train or simply sitting at home relaxing, we wish you a happy and safe Thanksgiving Holiday 2011.
HRM Partners, Inc.