The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was a three-day-long feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate the Plymouth colony's first successful harvest. They ate duck and deer meat roasted over a fire, corn ground into porridge, seafood, cabbage, and squash. Turkey, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes aren't mentioned in the only written account of this first Thanksgiving. The event included activities such as ball games, target shooting, singing, and dancing.
Many well-known people attended the first Thanksgiving celebration, including Wampanoag leader Massasoit, Squanto (who taught the Pilgrims to plant native crops), Governor William Bradford, Captain Myles Standish, and religious leader William Brewster.
For more than 100 years, American settlers celebrated Turkey Day informally. An official Thanksgiving Day occurred in 1777, when George Washington declared December 18th a day for "solemn thanksgiving and praise." It wasn't until the 19th century, however, that the modern Thanksgiving holiday took shape. Following a 36-year letter-writing campaign by magazine editor Sarah Hale, Abraham Lincoln finally made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863.
The only glitch in Thanksgiving celebrations occurred in 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt changed the holiday from the last Thursday in November to the next-to-last Thursday to extend the Christmas shopping season. After public outrage, he signed legislation in 1941 to make Thanksgiving Day the fourth Thursday of each November.
Continued on page 2: Our National Traditions