I struggled to think of Thanksgiving traditions in my family and couldn’t come up with anything that stood out. So I googled “History of Thanksgiving” and found a few facts.
Number one. The first Thanksgiving was probably celebrated in 1621 after the first harvest in the new world. Both pilgrims and Native Americans were present for the feast, which lasted several days.
We have only two contemporary accounts of that first get-together. The first is Edward Winslow’s account that he wrote to family, who were probably still in England, in a letter dated Dec. 12, 1621, and published in 1622.
He speaks of crops of wheat, Indian corn and barley, but the peas weren’t worth gathering because they were planted late and parched by the sun. The governor (who was more like a mayor, probably, or perhaps a group leader) sent men out to kill fowl for the feast.
Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag Indian tribe, encouraged friendship with the new settlers and showed up with 90 people and five deer that were added to the feast. So they all partied and did target practice and had a grand old time.
Our Thanksgiving turkey tradition comes from William Bradford’s account which was written 20 years later. In his “History of the Plymouth Plantation,” he mentions gathering wild turkeys, waterfowl and fish.
Two things they didn’t have at the first Thanksgiving, which are staples today, were potatoes and sweet potatoes, as these hadn’t been introduced to the new world yet.
Other things were available, though: raspberries, strawberries and grapes. There were squashes, ground nuts, acorns and beans. That first year the harvest was good and food plentiful.
The feast wasn’t repeated in the following years as a specific holiday, although there are early accounts of community celebrations.
In 1827, Sarah Hale started lobbying for a national holiday but it wasn’t until 1863 that President Lincoln designated the last Thursday of November as our national Thanksgiving.
That date was later moved to the third Thursday, as the later date interfered with Christmas.
FDR commissioned that date and it went into effect in 1941.
As for Macy’s Parade, it began in 1924. Immigrants who worked at Macy’s missed their homelands’ traditions. More than 1,000 Macy’s employees marched in that first parade. Joining them were bands and floats and 25 animals from the Central Park Zoo. It is estimated a quarter of a million people lined the streets to watch the parade, which started at 145th Street and ended in front of Macy’s.
The very next day, Macy’s announced the parade would be an annual event. And, except for 1942-1944 when it was canceled because of WWII, the parade has remained.
The first balloons were introduced in 1927. At the end of the parade, they were released and whoever found one could return it to Macy’s for a prize.
I guess if I have any tradition for Thanksgiving, it’s the parades. After the turkey or ham is in the oven, I take time between holiday preparations to catch sight of the bands, the floats and the announcers with their bits of background information. I love the glamor and the glitz.
After all, who doesn’t love a parade?
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Today I saw God in tradition.
Where did you see God today?
Pat Pratt is an Ellis County author and writing coach who facilitates the Write Way and Write On writing groups. She also serves as pastor of Community Church in Red Oak and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.