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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 28 January, 1998, 11:43 GMT
What does it mean?
Clinton and turkey
Thanksgiving is a unique American holiday
What is Thanksgiving?

When asked, most Americans recall jammed airports, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade through New York City and much too much food. Others identify the holiday's 3 Fs: family, food and football.

They are right. In the days before Thanksgiving, families bustle in the kitchen, making American specialities such as stuffed turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after are notoriously the worst travel days of the year.

Some of the biggest (American) football games of the year - traditionally hosted by the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions - are played on Thanksgiving Day. A running joke in many households is: Do we eat at half time or wait until after the game?

The history

The first Thanksgiving feast was celebrated by the pilgrims of the Plymouth colony and about 90 Wampanoag Indians in 1621. The pilgrims had survived a devastating winter in which nearly half had died. Without the help of the Indians, all would have perished.

George Washington
George Washington proclaimed the first national day of Thanksgiving
After the first harvest, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer to God. The food, which was eaten outdoors, included corn, goose, turkey, duck, eel, clams, leeks, plums, cod, bass, barley, venison and corn bread. The feast lasted 3 days.

In 1623, during a period of drought, colonists proclaimed a day of prayer and fasting. Rains came and later that year, Governor Bradford proclaimed November 29 as a time for pilgrims to gather and "listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."

Throughout American history, there were many thanksgiving proclamations and celebrations.

In 1789, the first American President, George Washington, proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday in November, in honour of the new United States Constitution. But Thomas Jefferson, the third president, later discontinued it, calling it "a kingly practice."

Sara Josepha Hale
Sara Josepha Hale was instrumental in establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday
In 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor (and author of the poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb"), convinced President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving a national holiday. For the date she chose the last Thursday in November because of Washington's proclamation.

In 1941, the date was officially changed to the fourth Thursday in November.

As you like it

History aside, Thanksgiving is uniquely American.

It is a holiday for individuals - to be celebrated any way they see fit. There are no rules, no religion and no presents.

One American, Cathy Kaufman, says that is exactly what she likes about Thanksgiving.

"Thanksgiving is a wonderful time. Every year in my family we go around the table and tell what we are thankful for. For everyone, it is something different. And it makes us all reflect on all that we have."

Top Thanksgiving stories now:

Links to more Thanksgiving stories are at the foot of the page.


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Links to more Thanksgiving stories

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