The Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. Their first winter was devastating and by the fall they had lost 46 of the original 102 people who sailed on the Mayflower. However, the harvest of 1621 was a bountiful one and the remaining colonists decided to celebrate with a feast, so they invited the Native American Indians who had helped them survive their first year. The feast lasted three days and included wild ducks, geese, venison, fish, boiled pumpkin, berries and dried fruits. It is not certain that wild turkey was a part of their feast since the pilgrims used the word “turkey” to mean any sort of wild fowl.
However, this first Thanksgiving feast was not repeated the following year. In fact, it wasn’t until June of 1676 that the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, proclaimed another Day of Thanksgiving to express thanks for the good fortune that had seen their community securely established. However, much like the original Thanksgiving in 1620, this day was also not repeated the following year. Instead, October 1777 marked the first time that all 13 colonies joined in a Thanksgiving celebration and, yet again, this was a one-time affair.
In fact, until 1863 Thanksgiving Day had not been celebrated annually since the first feast in 1621. It was Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, whose efforts eventually led to what we recognize today as Thanksgiving. She encouraged President Abraham Lincoln to establish the last Thursday in November as a day for national thanksgiving and prayer, hence Thanksgiving Day.
Today, Thanksgiving in America has become a tradition of spending time with families, watching football and parades filled with floats and marching bands, feasting on turkey and other home-cooked food, and giving thanks for everything received in the past year.