Giving thanks for what?

In Hungary we are all familiar with Black Friday, which is slowly becoming Black Week or even Black Month in the shops. But do you know what we celebrate on the day before Black Friday, that is on the fourth Thursday of November? It is the day of thanksgiving in the United States of America. What are the origins of this holiday and for what exactly are they giving thanks?

Photo: Unsplash, Element5 Digital

As the legend says, in the very beginning of the 1600’s, a small group of people fled from England because of their religion and settled down in the Netherlands. They had been living there for nearly ten years when they had had enough of the Dutch way of life and what is more, the new generations started take on these Dutch customs. The deeply religious English did not care for that so they decided to start a new life in the New World. With 102 people on board, Mayflower left the ports of Plymouth on 16, September, 1620. They spent 66 stormy days on deck and ate only cold food because did not dare light a fire, so some of them died during the voyage. Instead of their original destination first they reached Cape Cod, but a month later they sailed across the bay and started to lay down the foundations their new village. 

Because of the deadly winter many of them stayed on board the ship, and only the half of them survived the spring. They were afraid of the New World’s inhabitants, the Native Americans, but were actually welcomed warmly. A Native American, called Squanto, who knew the English language thanks to the years he had spent in English captivity, helped them. He taught the Pilgrims how to fish and hunt, how to grow corn and how to tap maple trees to get the syrup. In short, he helped them survive their first year.

Photo: Unsplash, Aaron Burden

After the abundant harvest in 1621, they invited the Native Americans for a giant feast. The feast lasted for 3 days: they danced, ate, drank. The Native Americans showed the English how to use the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims showed off their fencing skills. The menu did not exactly look like today’s menu: because sugar was scarce, there were hardly any desserts. Wild turkey, duck, goose and swan were on the menu, all prepared using the Native recipes, which meant stuffed with herbs, seeds and onion. The Native guests contributed five stags to the feast. Onion, beans, spinach, carrot, cabbage, peas and, obviously, maize were served, garnished mainly with red berries. According to historians, unlike contemporary meals, seafood, like lobster, oyster, perch and mussels made up the majority of the menu for the feast. Potatoes were not on the table in any way, shape or form, because they had not yet been discovered. The holiday virtually commemorates this communal feast. 

Photo: Unsplash, Claudio Schwarz

The next 2 to 3 years were not that successful so they held no feasts. Under the rule of George Washington, Thanksgiving became a nationally acknowledged celebration in 1789, but it was only 70 years later that Abraham Lincoln introduced it as a national holiday. In the beginning it was held on the final Thursday of November but in the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt changed it to the fourth Thursday of November. 

Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays in the USA. Family members take advantage of the four-day-long weekend to travel home to be together with their loved ones. After the heavy dinner, the family sit down in front of the TV and watch American football matches or do some charity work and give food for the homeless people. Macy’s, the New York department store organizes a big parade every year, where different bands and brass-bands play, and enormous balloons float in the air. The president also plays a part in thanksgiving by pardoning a turkey, so it won’t be slaughtered. 

WATCH: Trump pardons 2019 Thanksgiving turkeys

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Thanksgiving is also celebrated in Canada. Refugees who escaped from the United States during the civil war might have brought this tradition with themselves, which was made a national holiday in1879. The date was changed many times, but, in the end, the second Monday in October became the final choice for thanksgiving in Canada.