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The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth
by Jennie A. Brownscombe. (1914) Plymouth settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. This was continued
|Observed by||United States|
|Date||Fourth Thursday in November|
|2011 date||November 24|
|2012 date||November 22|
|2013 date||November 28|
|Celebrations||Giving thanks , spending time with family, feasting, football games, parades|
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth
by Jennie A. Brownscombe. (1914) Plymouth settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. This was continued
|Observed by||United States|
|Date||Fourth Thursday in November|
|2011 date||November 24|
|2012 date||November 22|
|2013 date||November 28|
|Celebrations||Giving thanks , spending time with family, feasting, football games, parades|
Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November. It has officially been an annual tradition since 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26. As a federal and popular holiday in the U.S., Thanksgiving is one of the major holidays of the year. Together with Christmas and the New Year, Thanksgiving is a part of the broader holiday season.
The event that some Americans commonly call the "First Thanksgiving" was celebrated by the Pilgrims to give thanks to God for guiding them safely to the New World. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, providing enough food for 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans. The feast consisted of fish (cod, eels, and bass) and shellfish (clams, lobster, and mussels), wild fowl (ducks, geese, swans, and turkey), venison, berries and fruit, vegetables (peas, pumpkin, beetroot and possibly, wild or cultivated onion), harvest grains (barley and wheat), and the Three Sisters: beans, dried Indian maize or corn, and squash. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating "thanksgivings"—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.
In Canada Thanksgiving is celebrated on second Monday in October.
The first documented thanksgiving feasts in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards in the 16th century. Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.
On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which comprised about 8,000 acres (3,200 ha) on the north bank of the James River, near Herring Creek, in an area then known as Charles Cittie, about 20 miles (32 km) upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established on May 14, 1607.
The group's charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a "day of thanksgiving" to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodlief held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: "We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."
During the Indian massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundreds were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.
After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantation, and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634, it became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, as Charles City County, one of the oldest in the United States, and is located along Virginia State Route 5, which runs parallel to the river's northern borders past sites of many of the James River plantations between the colonial capital city of Williamsburg (now the site of Colonial Williamsburg) and the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia at Richmond.
The modern Thanksgiving holiday traces its origins from a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the Plymouth settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. This was continued in later years, first as an impromptu religious observance, and later as a civil tradition.
Squanto, a Patuxet Native American who resided with the Wampanoag tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn and served as an interpreter for them (Squanto had learned English while enslaved in Europe and during travels in England). Additionally the Wampanoag leader Massasoit had donated food stores to the fledgling colony during the first winter when supplies brought from England were insufficient. The Pilgrims set apart a day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest, in 1621. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance; harvest festivals existed in English and Wampanoag tradition alike. Several colonists gave personal accounts of the 1621 feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims, most of whom were Separatists, are not to be confused with Puritans who established their own Massachusetts Bay Colony nearby (current day Boston) in 1628 and had very different religious beliefs.
Thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity. They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
The Pilgrims held an even greater Thanksgiving celebration in 1623, after a switch from communal farming to privatized farming, a fast, and a refreshing 14-day rain resulted in a larger harvest. William DeLoss Love calculates that this thanksgiving was made on Wednesday, July 30, 1623, a day prior to the arrival of a supply ship with more colonists, but prior to the fall harvest. In Love's opinion this 1623 thanksgiving was significant because the order to recognize the event was from civil authority, (Governor Bradford) and not from the church, making it likely the first civil recognition of Thanksgiving in New England.
Referring to the 1623 harvest after the nearly catastrophic drought, Bradford wrote:
And afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving… By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine now God gave them plenty … for which they blessed God. And the effect of their particular planting was well seen, for all had … pretty well … so as any general want or famine had not been amongst them since to this day.
— William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation
Irregular thanksgivings continued after favorable events and days of fasting after unfavorable ones. In the Plymouth tradition, a thanksgiving day was primarily a church observance, rather than a feast day. But thanksgiving days did have a civil observance linked to the religious one, as in 1623. Gradually, an annual Thanksgiving after the harvest developed in the mid-17th century. This did not occur on any set day or necessarily on the same day in different colonies in America.
Prior to the American Revolution, many of the colonies of what are now considered to be Canada were included in British America. In 1578, Frobisher Bay (later a part of the Canadian territory of Nunavut) was the site of the first Thanksgiving on Anglo-American soil, as Martin Frobisher held a thanksgiving feast following a safe return from his unsuccessful search for the Northwest Passage. This thanksgiving feast served as one of the bases of the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony (consisting mainly of Puritan Christians) celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time in 1630, and frequently thereafter until about 1680, when it became an annual festival in that colony; and Connecticut as early as 1639 and annually after 1647, except in 1675. The Dutch in New Netherland appointed a day for giving thanks in 1644 and occasionally thereafter.
Charlestown, Massachusetts, held the first recorded Thanksgiving observance June 29, 1671, by proclamation of the town's governing council.
Later in the 18th century, individual colonies would periodically designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, an adoption of a state constitution or an exceptionally bountiful crop. Such a Thanksgiving Day celebration was held in December 1777 by the colonies nationwide, commemorating the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.
During the 18th century, individual colonies commonly observed days of thanksgiving throughout each year. We might not recognize a traditional Thanksgiving Day from that period, as it was not a day marked by plentiful food and drink as is today's custom, but rather a day set aside for prayer and fasting.
During the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress appointed one or more thanksgiving days each year, each time recommending to the executives of the various states the observance of these days in their states.
The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777 from its temporary location in York, Pennsylvania, while the British occupied the national capital at Philadelphia. Delegate Samuel Adams created the first draft. Congress then adapted the final version:
FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:
It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth "in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.
And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.
George Washington, leader of the revolutionary forces in the American Revolutionary War, proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga.
On Thursday, September 24, 1789, the first House of Representatives voted to recommend the First Amendment of the newly drafted Constitution to the states for ratification. The next day, Congressman Elias Boudinot from New Jersey proposed that the House and Senate jointly request of President Washington to proclaim a day of thanksgiving for “the many signal favors of Almighty God.” Boudinot said that he “could not think of letting the session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining, with one voice, in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them.”
As President, on October 3, 1789, George Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness." Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
George Washington again proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795.
President John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. No Thanksgiving proclamations were issued by Thomas Jefferson but James Madison renewed the tradition in 1814, in response to resolutions of Congress, at the close of the War of 1812. Madison also declared the holiday twice in 1815; however, none of these was celebrated in autumn. In 1816, Governor Plumer of New Hampshire appointed Thursday, November 14 to be observed as a day of Public Thanksgiving and Governor Brooks of Massachusetts appointed Thursday, November 28 to be "observed throughout that State as a day of Thanksgiving."
A thanksgiving day was annually appointed by the governor of New York from 1817. In some of the Southern states, there was opposition to the observance of such a day on the ground that it was a relic of Puritanic bigotry, but by 1858 proclamations appointing a day of thanksgiving were issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories.
In the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. The document, written by Secretary of State William Seward, reads as follows:
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth." Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863.
Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been observed annually in the United States.
During the second half of the 19th century, Thanksgiving traditions in America varied from region to region. A traditional New England Thanksgiving, for example, consisted of a raffle held on Thanksgiving eve (in which the prizes were mainly geese or turkeys), a shooting match on Thanksgiving morning (in which unfortunate turkeys and chickens were used as targets), church services, and then the traditional feast which consisted of some familiar Thanksgiving staples such as turkey and pumpkin pie, and some not-so-familiar dishes such as pigeon pie. The earliest high school football rivalries took root in the late 19th century in Massachusetts, stemming from games played on Thanksgiving; professional football took root as a Thanksgiving staple during the sport's genesis in the 1890s, and the tradition of Thanksgiving football both at the high school and professional level continues to this day. In New York City, people would dress up in fanciful masks and costumes and roam the streets in merry-making mobs. By the beginning of the 20th century these mobs had morphed into "ragamuffin parades" consisting mostly of children dressed as "ragamuffins" in costumes of old and mismatched adult clothes and with deliberately smudged faces, and by the late 1950s the tradition had vanished entirely.
Abraham Lincoln's successors as president followed his example of annually declaring the final Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving. But in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt broke with this tradition. November had five Thursdays that year (instead of the more-common four), and Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving rather than the fifth one. Although many popular histories state otherwise, he made clear that his plan was to establish the holiday on the next-to-last Thursday in the month instead of the last one. With the country still in the midst of The Great Depression, Roosevelt thought an earlier Thanksgiving would give merchants a longer period to sell goods before Christmas. Increasing profits and spending during this period, Roosevelt hoped, would help bring the country out of the Depression. At the time, advertising goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving was considered inappropriate. Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of the Federated Department Stores (later Macy's), is credited with convincing Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving back a week to expand the shopping season.
Republicans decried the change, calling it an affront to the memory of Lincoln. People began referring to November 30 as the "Republican Thanksgiving" and November 23 as the "Democratic Thanksgiving" or "Franksgiving". Regardless of the politics, many localities had made a tradition of celebrating on the last Thursday, and many football teams had a tradition of playing their final games of the season on Thanksgiving; with their schedules set well in advance, they could not change. Since a presidential declaration of Thanksgiving Day was not legally binding, Roosevelt's change was widely disregarded. Twenty-three states went along with Roosevelt's recommendation, 22 did not, and some, like Texas, could not decide and took both days as government holidays.
In 1940 and 1941, years in which November had four Thursdays, Roosevelt declared the third one as Thanksgiving. As in 1939, some states went along with the change while others retained the traditional last-Thursday date.
On October 6, 1941, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution fixing the traditional last-Thursday date for the holiday beginning in 1942. However, in December of that year the Senate passed an amendment to the resolution that split the difference by requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually on the fourth Thursday of November, which was sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes (less frequently) the next to last. On December 26, 1941 President Roosevelt signed this bill, for the first time making the date of Thanksgiving a matter of federal law and fixing the day as the fourth Thursday of November. However, for several years some states continued to observe the last-Thursday date in years with five November Thursdays, with Texas doing so as late as 1956.
Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented the President of the United States with one live turkey and two dressed turkeys, in a ceremony known as the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. In a tradition that began as a one-off joke by Ronald Reagan in 1987 and made permanent by George H. W. Bush in 1989, the live turkey is "pardoned" and lives out the rest of its days on a nearby peaceful farm. There are legends that state that the "pardoning" tradition dates to the Harry Truman administration or even to an anecdote of Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey; both stories have been quoted in more recent presidential speeches, but neither has any evidence in the Presidential record. In more recent years, two turkeys have been pardoned, in case the original turkey becomes unavailable for presidential pardoning.
U.S. tradition compares the holiday with a meal held in 1621 by the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is continued in modern times with the Thanksgiving dinner, traditionally featuring turkey, playing a central role in the celebration of Thanksgiving.
In the United States, certain kinds of food are traditionally served at Thanksgiving meals. Firstly, baked or roasted turkey is usually the featured item on any Thanksgiving feast table (so much so that Thanksgiving is sometimes referred to as "Turkey Day"). Stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet corn, various fall vegetables (mainly various kinds of squashes), and pumpkin pie are commonly associated with Thanksgiving dinner. All of these are actually native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food source to the Europeans when they arrived. Turkey may be an exception. In his book Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick suggests that the Pilgrims might already have been familiar with turkey in England, even though the bird is native to the Americas. The Spaniards had brought domesticated turkeys back from Central America in the early 17th century, and the birds soon became popular fare all over Europe, including England, where turkey (as an alternative to the traditional goose) became a "fixture at English Christmases".
The less fortunate are often provided with food at Thanksgiving time. Most communities have annual food drives that collect non-perishable packaged and canned foods, and corporations sponsor charitable distributions of staple foods and Thanksgiving dinners.
Thanksgiving was founded as a religious observance for all the members of the community to give thanks to God for a common purpose. Historic reasons for community thanksgivings are: the 1541 thanksgiving mass after the expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado safely crossing the high plains of Texas and finding game, and the 1777 thanksgiving after the victory in the Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga. In his 1789 Proclamation, President Washington gave many noble reasons for a national Thanksgiving, including "for the civil and religious liberty", for "useful knowledge", and for God’s "kind care" and "His Providence". The only presidents to express a specifically Christian perspective in their proclamation have been Grover Cleveland in 1896, and William McKinley in 1900. Several other presidents have cited the Judeo-Christian tradition. Gerald Ford's 1975 declaration made no clear reference to any divinity.
The tradition of giving thanks to God is continued today in various forms. Various religious and spiritual organizations offer worship services and events on Thanksgiving themes the weekend before, the day of, or the weekend after Thanksgiving.
At home, it is a holiday tradition in many families to begin the Thanksgiving dinner by saying grace (a prayer before or after a meal). The custom is portrayed in the photograph "Family Holding Hands and Praying Before a Thanksgiving Meal". Traditionally, grace was led by the hostess or host, though in later times it is usual for others to contribute.
Hesham A. Hassaballa, an American Muslim scholar and physician, has written that Thanksgiving "is wholly consistent with Islamic principles" and that "few things are more Islamic than thanking God for His blessings." Similarly many Sikh Americans also celebrate the holiday by "giving thanks to Almighty."
On Thanksgiving Day, families and friends usually gather for a large meal or dinner. Consequently, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Thanksgiving is a four-day or five-day weekend vacation for schools and colleges. Most business and government workers (78% in 2007) are given Thanksgiving and the day after as paid holidays. Thanksgiving Eve, the night before Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest nights of the year for bars and clubs, as many college students and others return to their hometowns to reunite with friends and family.
Since 1924, in New York City, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is held annually every Thanksgiving Day from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Macy's flagship store in Herald Square, and televised nationally by NBC. The parade features parade floats with specific themes, scenes from Broadway plays, large balloons of cartoon characters and TV personalities, and high school marching bands. The float that traditionally ends the Macy's Parade is the Santa Claus float, the arrival of which is an unofficial sign of the beginning of the Christmas season.
Also founded in 1924, America's Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit is one of the largest parades in the country. The parade runs from Midtown to Downtown Detroit and precedes the annual Detroit Lions Thanksgiving football game. The parade includes large balloons, marching bands, and various celebrity guests much like the Macy's parade and is nationally televised on various affiliate stations. The Mayor of Detroit closes the parade by giving Santa Claus a key to the city.
There are Thanksgiving parades in many other cities, including:
Most of these parades are televised on a local station, and some have small, usually regional, syndication networks; most also carry the parades via Internet television on the TV stations' websites.
Several other parades have a loose association with Thanksgiving, thanks to CBS's now-discontinued All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage. Parades that were covered during this era were the Aloha Floral Parade held in Honolulu, Hawaii every September, the Toronto Santa Claus Parade in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and the Opryland Aqua Parade (held from 1996 to 2001 by the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville); the Opryland parade was discontinued and replaced by a taped parade in Miami Beach, Florida in 2002. A Disneyland parade was also featured on CBS until Disney purchased rival ABC.
American football is an important part of many Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States. Professional football games are often held on Thanksgiving Day; until recently, these were the only games played during the week apart from Sunday or Monday night. The National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving every year since its creation; the tradition is referred to as the Thanksgiving Classic. The Detroit Lions have hosted a game every Thanksgiving Day since 1934, with the exception of 1939–1944 (due to World War II). In 1966, the Dallas Cowboys, who had been founded six years earlier, adopted the practice of hosting Thanksgiving games. It is widely rumored that the Cowboys sought a guarantee that they would regularly host Thanksgiving games as a condition of their very first one (since games on days other than Sunday were uncommon at the time and thus high attendance was not a certainty).
For many college football teams, the regular season ends on Thanksgiving weekend, and a team's final game is often against a regional or historic rival. Most of these college games are played on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving, but usually a single college game is played on Thanksgiving itself.
High school football games, and informal "Turkey Bowl" contests played by amateur groups and organizations, are frequently held on Thanksgiving weekend. Games of football preceding or following the meal in the back yard or a nearby field are also common during many family gatherings.
In college basketball, the annual Anaheim Classic (formerly the 76 Classic) and Old Spice Classic tournaments take place over Thanksgiving weekend, with many of the games being played on Thanksgiving itself. Games are televised on ESPN2 and ESPNU in marathon format. This is a relatively new "tradition," as these tournaments were founded in 2007 and 2006 respectively. Competitor Versus (now NBC Sports Network) responded by acquiring the rights to the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, previously aired the week before Thanksgiving, and moving it to Thanksgiving weekend in 2011. The National Basketball Association also briefly played on Thanksgiving, albeit in the evening, with a doubleheader airing Thanksgiving night on TNT, a practice that ran from 2009 to 2011; the Atlanta Hawks hosted the early game each year, while the Los Angeles Clippers have been scheduled to host the late game in both 2010 and 2011 (both of the 2011 NBA Thanksgiving games were canceled due to a labor dispute). The NBA did not schedule any Thanksgiving games in 2012.
Though golf and auto racing are in their off-seasons on Thanksgiving, there are events in those sports that take place on Thanksgiving weekend. The Turkey Night Grand Prix is an annual automobile race that takes place at the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on Thanksgiving night; due in part to the fact that this is after the Sprint Cup Series and IZOD IndyCar Series have finished their seasons, it allows some of the top racers in the United States to participate. In golf, Thanksgiving weekend was the traditional time of the Skins Game from 1983 to 2008; the event was canceled in 2009 due to a lack of sponsorship and a difficulty in drawing star talent. A return was, at the time of the cancellation, planned for the next year, but no skins game has been included when the PGA Tour released its schedule in 2010, 2011 or 2012.
In ice hockey, the National Hockey League announced, as part of its decade-long extension with NBC, that they would begin airing a game on the Friday afternoon following Thanksgiving beginning the 2011–12 NHL season; the game has since been branded as the Thanksgiving Showdown. (The Boston Bruins have played matinees on Black Friday since at least 1990, but 2011 is the first time the game has been nationally televised.) The NHL has played games on American Thanksgiving, usually scheduling games involving Canadian teams and in Canada, as Thanksgiving is on a different day there, although none were scheduled in 2011 and only one was scheduled in 2012; as a result of the effective day off, almost all of the league's teams play the day after Thanksgiving.
The Turkey Trot is a road running event held in numerous cities on Thanksgiving morning. Depending on the organizations involved, these can range from one-mile fun runs to full marathons (although no races currently use the latter; the Atlanta Marathon stopped running on Thanksgiving beginning in 2010). Most Turkey Trots range from between three and ten miles.
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Occasionally, a Christmas-themed film will be released to theatres in the United States on or during the Thanksgiving holiday. Such was the case with the 1935 Scrooge, the 1951 film version of the Dickens classic, and with two film versions of The Nutcracker-the 1986 film version  and the famous George Balanchine version of the ballet, as well as the animated The Nutcracker Prince.
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While not as prolific as Christmas specials, which usually begin right after Thanksgiving, there are many special television programs transmitted on or around Thanksgiving. In some cases, Christmas films and specials begin to be telecast on Thanksgiving Day, since the day signals the beginning of the Christmas season in the U.S.
Daytime television is a popular time slot for several Thanksgiving specials. NBC currently carries the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade nationwide by official license from Macy's; NBC also carries the National Dog Show, immediately after the Macy's Parade, followed by Miracle on 34th Street. CBS carries unofficial coverage of the Macy's parade and an NFL game; on odd-numbered years when CBS has the Dallas Cowboys game, the East Coast sees repeats of its daytime programs during the afternoons (on even-numbered when they have the Detroit Lions game, the West Coast programming is shuffled so that the extra time airs in late night hours). ABC has no daytime Thanksgiving specials; neither does FOX, although Fox also carries an NFL game. WGN America carries the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade and a special entitled Bozo, Gar and Ray: WGN TV Classics. Local television stations will occasionally preempt these programs in favor of local parades and events, while syndicators will offer Thanksgiving-themed episodes of sitcom reruns.
From 1992 to 1998, Fox Kids would have a special programming block called "The Fox Kids T.V. Takeover", where they would show Fox Kids programming from noon until 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day (with programming adjusted around the network's football coverage in each time zone).
In prime time, ABC currently airs A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and "The Mayflower Voyagers" from This is America, Charlie Brown; until 2005 and again since 2008, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving aired on Thanksgiving night (though in 2006 and 2007, the network moved this to the Monday before so that they could compete head-to-head with CBS, who airs regularly scheduled programming, in a ratings war, as Thanksgiving lies within the November sweeps period). On Thanksgiving night, Fox usually carries a feature film. NBC's programming has historically varied, including feature films, special episodes of NBC series, NBC News specials, or music specials; as of 2012, NBC will air a prime time NFL game on Thanksgiving, which will run through 2022. Additionally, some series have over time featured Thanksgiving-themed episodes and specials, including WKRP in Cincinnati's famous episode "Turkeys Away". Music specials by popular artists are popular in the days leading up to Thanksgiving and on Thanksgiving itself.
Cable stations usually carry marathons of their popular shows on Thanksgiving Day. The 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz is often aired on Thanksgiving Day on Turner Broadcasting owned outlets (either TBS or Turner Classic Movies).
On the radio, the Friday before Thanksgiving has, in recent years, been the benchmark and standard date for adult contemporary music stations to switch over to full-time Christmas music. There are a few Thanksgiving-themed specials and songs for various formats; many classic rock stations, for example, have a tradition of playing Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant" on Thanksgiving, as the song's lyrics are about an event that takes place on the holiday, while many other stations will air Adam Sandler's "The Thanksgiving Song." In talk radio, The Rush Limbaugh Show has a tradition known as "The Real Story of Thanksgiving," in which Limbaugh argues (based upon texts such as Of Plymouth Plantation) that the early Puritans were communalists who, upon near starvation in the winter of 1621 with their system of common ownership of farm produce, switched to a free enterprise system and prospered. Westwood One carries all of the NFL Thanksgiving games, while the Sports USA Radio Network and United Stations Radio Networks carry several of the Friday rivalry games.
Much like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving is seen by some as a celebration of the conquest and genocide of Native Americans by European colonists. Professor Dan Brook of University of California, Berkeley condemns the "cultural and political amnesia" of Americans that celebrate Thanksgiving, saying that "We do not have to feel guilty, but we do need to feel something." Professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas at Austin is somewhat harsher, saying that "One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting."
Since 1970, the United American Indians of New England, a protest group led by Frank "Wamsutta" James that has accused the United States and European settlers of fabricating the Thanksgiving story and whitewashing a genocide and injustice against Indians, has led a National Day of Mourning protest on Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the name of social equality and in honor of political prisoners.
Another notable example of anti-Thanksgiving sentiment was when hundreds of supporters traveled to Alcatraz on Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the Occupation of Alcatraz by Indians of All Tribes. The American Indian Movement also holds a negative view of Thanksgiving and has used it as a platform of protest, most notably when they took over a Mayflower float in a Thanksgiving Day parade. Some Native Americans hold "Unthanksgiving Day" celebrations in which they mourn the deaths of their ancestors, fast, dance, and pray. This tradition has been taking place since 1975.
However, the perception of Thanksgiving among Native Americans is not universally negative. Tim Giago, founder of the Native American Journalists Organization, seeks to reconcile Thanksgiving with Native American traditions. He compares Thanksgiving to "wopila," a thanks-giving celebration practiced by Native Americans of the Great Plains. He writes in The Huffington Post that "the idea of a day of Thanksgiving has been a part of the Native American landscape for centuries. The fact that it is also a national holiday for all Americans blends in perfectly with Native American traditions." He also shares personal anecdotes of Native American families coming together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Members of the Oneida Indian Nation marched in the 2010 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with a float called "The True Spirit of Thanksgiving."
Some atheists and strict separationists have also criticized popular traditions associated with the celebration of Thanksgiving, particularly the annual recitation of Thanksgiving proclamations by the President of the United States as they often revolve around the theme of giving thanks to God, due to their interpretation of the separation of church and state. However, accommodationists such as Greg Koukl and Chuck Norris have responded that their interpretation of the separation of church and state has no historical precedent, and that the holiday was established by Abraham Lincoln for the explicit purpose of thanking God for blessings.
In recent years there has been some controversy raised over the date of Thanksgiving and its position in the seasonal cycle. The two most common disagreements are:
1) Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two most popular holidays for family-oriented travel and social events, yet they are spaced only one month apart from each other. Having Thanksgiving earlier in the fall would make the two holidays more evenly spaced, allowing more time to recover from one before having to plan for the second.
2) The late November date somewhat contradicts the holiday's harvest theme. In northern midlatitude climates, the harvest season generally runs from August through October. Observing the holiday in September or October would be more representative of harvest time. In addition, late November often brings early winter weather to the northern parts of the United States - and an earlier date would circumvent weather-related travel difficulties.
Since being fixed at the fourth Thursday in November by law in 1941, the holiday in the United States can occur on any date from November 22 to 28. When it falls on November 22 or 23, it is not the last Thursday, but the penultimate Thursday in November. As it is a Federal holiday, all United States government offices are closed and employees are paid for that day. It is also a holiday for the New York Stock Exchange and most other financial markets and financial services companies.
The day after Thanksgiving is a day off for some companies and many schools and often the largest shopping day of the year. It is popularly known as Black Friday.
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