Thanksgiving through the years has changed and morphed from the first harvest between colonies to spending it with the people you hold most dear. 

I will be going through the holiday’s history along with the traditions we practice today. It starts in the year 1620. 


The history of Thanksgiving dates all the way back to September 1620 when a ship departed from Plymouth, England, holding passengers in search of a place called ‘New Land.’ 

The ship, named “The Mayflower,” carried 102 passengers seeking out a place to safely practice their own religion. 

According to History, “After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far North of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River.” 

About a month later, these colonists found themselves at Massachusetts Bay and named it Plymouth after where they came from. The first winter they experienced was harsher than they expected with a mix of weather conditions they were underprepared for and disease outbreak. This led to a large amount of death. 

History goes on to explain, “Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from a member of the Abenaki tribe who greeted them in English.”

The Abenaki Tribe was not the only tribe that visited the new settlers; they would also come in contact with Pawtuxet Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe. A few days later, a member of the Abenaki tribe introduced them to Squanto. 

Once held in slavery by an English Captian and returned to his home, Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe. After seeing how the pilgrims were in such bad conditions with malnutrition and sicknesses, Squanto taught them many things, such as agriculture. 

According to History, he showed them “how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which endured for more than 50 years and remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.” 


The pilgrims had a successful corn harvest in November 1621. This brought about a celebration from Governor William Bradford, who invited the allies that were made with the Native Americans.


The celebration became a traditional event after the colony had its second Thanksgiving feast in 1623 to rejoice the end of a drought that was a danger to the harvest. 

“This prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious fast. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis became common practice in other New England settlements as well,” as History points out


Fast forward a century and a half to the American Revolution when the Continental Congress made one or more days of thanksgiving each year. This led to George Washington issuing the first Thanksgiving proclamation in the United States in 1789. According to History, Washington “called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution.”

Other presidents followed in his footsteps to have designated days of gratitude during their presidencies, like John Adams and James Madison.


It took some time before the entirety of the States was familiar with the tradition. New York was the first to fully celebrate the holiday in 1817 while many of the southern states continued to be unsure of it. 


Thanksgiving was not always celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November; it was originally the last Thursday, as declared by Abraham Lincoln. This was the case up until 1939 when during the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date up a week to help retail sales. The day was declared Franksgiving, but the name was very disliked by a large number of people, and thus did not stick.

Reluctantly, the president then signed a bill declaring that the fourth Thursday in November would be declared as Thanksgiving in 1941. 

Traditions throughout the centuries have changed and shifted. From celebrating allies and a fresh start on new land to being grateful for the people you love the most sitting around the table sharing food. 

Present Day

Thanksgiving wasn’t always one of my favorite holidays, but when I came to college, it was the first time I could go home. Family has always been the most important thing in my life, but it meant more to see them after months in a different state. 

From helping my mom make cranberry sauce to helping my grandmother with the pies, I learned to value each moment even more than I used to. It wasn’t just about making food; it was about how much time I could get in before having to go back to school. 

For me, Thanksgiving is a time when family comes together to be grateful that we have each other through and through. 

Each and every family has its own traditions, so I asked a few students what their favorites are. 

Rachel Harris, a sophomore psychology major, talked about her traditions: “My church hosted a Thanksgiving event that my family would go to every year. I always loved going to this event because I got to celebrate Thanksgiving with my friends and their families, and these are some of the people I am most thankful for.” 

Bryn Lambert, a sophomore allied health major, also spoke about her traditions: “Every Thanksgiving my grandparents come over and we have some Thanksgiving foods including creamed corn and honey-baked ham. It is rare that I get to spend time with all my siblings, so I am always grateful when we are all able to join together.”

Whatever your traditions are, enjoy your time with the people you love the most this season, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!