Nov 23, 2013

Pilgrims and Thanksgiving

Pilgrims did not celebrate the first Thanksgiving in America. In fact, the particular Pilgrim event that is often cited as the first Thanksgiving was not even the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving. They had several before at various times and none were celebrated annually. The days were merely a particular time when people had something significant to thank God for, so would set aside a day to do so.

Around the time the Pilgrims came to America in 1620, it was common in England and many parts of Europe to frequently set aside days for giving thanks to God. In the New World, where life was harsh in the beginning, there were numerous opportunities to hold such days of thanks, such as any time a particularly good crop would come in, when drought would end, when a particularly harsh winter was survived, when a group repelled an attack by Native Americans, when a supply ship arrived safely from Europe, etc. Seems like they had many reasons to party.

These celebrations remained fairly common up until the time when Thanksgiving became a national holiday. Most of these celebrations bore little resemblance to what we think of as Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims celebrations bore little resemblance to what is depicted now.

No one knows for sure who actually celebrated the first actual Thanksgiving in America. The most popular examples often referenced as the actual “firsts” include:

  • The day of thanksgiving celebrated in September 1565 by a group of Spaniards lead by Spanish explorer Pedro MenĂ©ndez de AvilĂ©, in Saint Augustine, Florida. Pedro invited the Timucua tribe to dine with them on that Thanksgiving.

  • The group led by Spanish explorer Juan de Onate in 1598 in San Elizario, Texas held a Thanksgiving festival after successfully crossing 350 miles of Mexican desert.

  • The thirty-eight settlers who landed on James River by Jamestown in December 1619. Their charter required that the day of landing be set aside as a day of thanksgiving both on that first date and every year after.

  • The Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving that took place sometime between September and October of 1621.