Thanksgiving Day first started in New England. It was for thanking God for the abundant harvest of crops. This is usually somewhere in late fall when the crops have been harvested. People from many parts of the world have been holding some kind of harvest festivals for thousands of years. They just called it by different names, for example :
U.K. - Harvest Festival UK
China - mid-autumn festival
Korea - Chu Suk, or also known as the Harvest Moon Festival.
India - Indian Harvest Festival (find out what it's called)
American Thanksgiving Day is probably a harvest festival at the beginning too. The first Thanksgiving Day in America was on December 4, 1619. At that time, it was a fully religious thing. A group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation via the James river (near Charles City, Va) on December 4, 1619 and their charter required that the day of their arrival be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God.
In New England, the first Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in Plymouth in 1621 by the Pilgrims together with 91 Indians. The Pilgrims first set foot at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. The first winter in Massachusetts was really bad and 46 out of the original 102 Pilgrims died. It is believed that the Indians helped the Pilgrims through that difficult period and without them, the Pilgrims would not have survived.
In the following Spring of 1621, Samoset of the Wampanoag Tribe and Squanto of the Patuxtet tribe, taught the survivors how to plant corn or maize and how to catch alewives, a kind of fish to be used as a fertilizer for growing pumpkins, beans, peas and other crops. These two braves also taught the Pilgrims the art of hunting and angling. Things got better in 1621 when the corn and pumpkin harvest was bountiful. Governor William Bradford made arrangements to celebrate the bountiful harvest and to recognise the help given to the colonists by the indians with a feast. The feast was more of an English Harvest festival celebration and it lasted for three days. Governmor William Bradford sent four men out "fowling" after ducks and geese but it is not very sure if it included the turkey. The Pilgrims used to call any type of wild fowl, turkey. Unfortunately, this celebration was not repeated for many years. In June 20, 1676, the governing council or Charlestown and Massachusetts held a meeting and by a unanimous vote, they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk, to proclaim June 29 as a Thanksgiving Day. The Indians were not included this time as the celebration was more about the Pilgrims' recent victory over the natives.
This custom soon spread from Plymouth to other New England colonies. In October 1777, all the 13 colonies joined in a thanksgiving celebration. This thanksgiving celebration was to commemorate the victory over the British at the Battle of Saratoga during the Revolutionary war. Eight days of thanksgiving was observed. This celebration was not repeated.
In 1789, President George Washington issued a general proclaimation naming November 26 a day of National Thanksgiving. Some were opposed to it as many felt it was not right to celebrate when there were hardships among some pilgrims.
At the same time that year, the Protestant Episcopal Church announced that the first Thursday in November would be set aside yearly for giving thanks. However, it was only in 1830 when New York had an official state Thanksgiving Day that other Northern states soon followed. Viginia, in 1855, became the first southern state to adopt this custom.
During the 1800s, a famous editor of the Ladies' Magazine and Godey's Lady's Book by the name of Sarah Josepha Hale (author of "Mary had a little lamb") worked many years to promote the idea of a National Thanksgiving Day. She was credited for persuading President Abraham Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday. Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November 1863 as "A day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father." However, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed it to one week earlier. This was to help businesses by lengthening the shopping period before Christmas. There was an uproar and it was changed back to its original date two years later. Then, Congress changed it again after 1941 to the fourth Thursday of November and it would be a legal federal holiday.
Today, Thanksgiving Day is usually a family reunion dinner celebration. Roast turkey is a favorite dish on this day. The Christians also attend church services and pray, thanking God for all the blessings for the year.
Traditional thanksgiving dinners those days usually includes turkeyscranberries, fish, dried fruit, clams, venison, plums and lobsters. Modern times thanksgiving dinners include the pumpkin pie.