Thanksgiving: Its Origins and Its Lessons

This is the week that Americans from coast to coast cease their work-a-day activities and gather with friends and loved ones for “Thanksgiving.” This is a time-honored ritual, observed by the overwhelming majority of the American population. What are the origins of this celebration and what meaning should it have for Americans today?

Thanksgiving is a combination of two long-standing traditions in Anglo-American civilization: the joyous harvest festival and the more somber declaration of a day of prayer or thanksgiving in the midst of some national crisis.

The origin of the present American Thanksgiving, at least spiritually and emotionally, harkens back to the 1621 observation of a thanksgiving and harvest celebration by the Plymouth settlers in Massachusetts.

These English Pilgrims left Plymouth, England on September 6, 1620 for the New World. After a little more than two months at sea, they landed in what is now Massachusetts. After signing the “Mayflower Compact” – the first document to introduce self-government to the New World – they disembarked to face the harsh New England winter.

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