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A North American Holiday

Although most people outside North America have heard of Thanksgiving, not many really know much about it. This article explains what Thanksgiving is, who celebrates it and why.

Thanksgiving is a National Holiday celebrated in both Canada and the US. In Canada it is celebrated on the second Monday of October, and in the US on the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving in Canada

The Canadians can actually lay claim to having had the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America. Martin Frobisher, an English Navigator, held a formal ceremony in Newfoundland in 1578. He did this to give thanks for surviving the long sea journey. Other settlers continued the tradition after they arrived in Newfoundland. At the time of the American Revolution, Americans who remained loyal to the Government in England, moved to Canada and thus Thanksgiving celebrations spread throughout Canada.

In 1879, Parliament declared November 6th a national holiday of Thanksgiving. Over the years this date changed, and on January 31, 1957, Parliament declared the second Monday in October of each year to be "A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed".

Thanksgiving in the United States.

Thanksgiving in the United States is a day when people reflect on all the things they are thankful for during the year. People celebrate the bounty of the harvest and their lives, just as the Pilgrims did years before.

The pilgrims were the first real European settlers to go to North America. They boarded a ship called the Mayflower in 1620. They were setting off to the new land of America for a variety of different reasons. This group included merchants, servants, freemen, and religious separatists. Regardless of why they chose to become colonists, they were all willing to risk everything they had � including their lives � for new opportunities that could not be found in their home countries.

The religious separatists were the smallest group within the ranks of the colonists; however, they were also the most organized. They were going to America for religious freedom. This group was originally from England. To escape religious persecution, imprisonment and even death, this group had escaped England for the Netherlands to live in self-imposed exile. It is there that the lived and practiced their beliefs, as best as they could, for twelve (12) years before they boarded the Mayflower.

Whilst we generally refer to the whole group of colonists on the Mayflower as �Pilgrims�, the term more appropriately refers to these religious separatists. In fact, the word �pilgrim� was not used to describe the colonists until 200 years later.

The Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving that first year after they arrived at Plymouth as they had suffered through much hardship. They had run out of food and the crops they had planted failed to grow. With the help of Native Americans led by Chief Massasoit, they survived to once again have an abundant harvest and rebuild their lives and carve a niche for themselves, and those who later followed, in the New World.

One of the things that enabled the Pilgrims to survive was their friendship with Chief Massasoit and his tribe. They showed the Pilgrims about native food and crop cultivation so that their farming would be abundant. The Pilgrims, in turn, showed their appreciation for the friendship of Chief Massasoit and his tribe by inviting them to celebrate their harvest and bounty after all of their sufferings.

The first Thanksgiving meal was nothing like the meals of today. It was more like a giant cook out. Now, traditionally, people eat turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn in some form or other and a variety of other vegetables and side dishes. The traditional dessert is pumpkin pie and/or pecan pie.

The Pilgrims continued to hold a Thanksgiving celebration every year, and it was eventually declared a national holiday. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national day of Thanksgiving, and made a proclamation. Every year since, the current President of the United States gives a Thanksgiving Day proclamation.

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